Barak, left, with Eizenkot.
Barak, left, with Eizenkot. Photo by Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry
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Defense Minister Ehud Barak will interview on Tuesday the two remaining candidates for the post of Israel Defense Forces deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi. A decision on the appointment is expected soon, even before January's general election, and is expected to be accompanied by significant pressure on Barak from Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.

The outgoing Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh is set to step down soon. Gantz wants to have a hand in appointing Naveh's successor, partly to prepare the ground for his own successor in the top spot. Gantz was appointed in February 2011 to a three-year term that may be extended by an additional year. Sources in the General Staff believe that Gantz would prefer Eizenkot as his deputy and his eventual successor as chief of staff.

Barak does not really need to interview Eizenkot and Mizrahi. He knows both of them well and interviewed them for the post of chief of staff in the summer of 2010, when both were in the running for that position.

That leads us back to the reason for Barak's procrastination for the past few months over the current appointment: the "Harpaz document affair," which cast a dark shadow over the contest that ended with Gantz's appointment. The affair was named for Lt. Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz, who allegedly circulated a forged document as part of efforts to keep Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant from being named to the post.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, followed by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, concluded that Eizenkot's role in the affair was negligible and did not exclude his appointment as deputy chief of staff.

Barak, whom Eizenkot served under as military secretary during the former's term as prime minister, 13 years ago, apparently took a harsher view of the matter. Nevertheless, in light of Gantz's support for Eizenkot and Barak's unwillingness to be seen as clashing on the eve of elections with yet another chief of staff - sparks flew between Barak and Gantz's predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi - Eizenkot seems to stand a good chances of getting the appointment.

The final report on the Harpaz affair is scheduled for release in December.

A third candidate for the deputy position, Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, dropped out of the race earlier this week when he announced his surprise retirement from the IDF. Shamni, who had a highly charged relationship with Gantz, completed his term as IDF Military Attache in Washington with a sense of bitterness. He decided to move up his retirement and not compete for a senior posting upon his return to Israel. (Shamni was among the contenders for chief of staff two years ago. )

Tension at the top

In the meantime a disagreement has broken out between the Prime Minister's Bureau and Gantz's office. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who yesterday bid an emotional farewell to his retiring military secretary, Maj. Gen. Yohanan Locker, recently interviewed two candidates to succeed Locker, both proposed by Gantz.

Netanyahu opted against both Brig. Gen. Eyal Zamir and Brig. Gen. Guy Zur. Instead he asked to interview Brig. Gen. Hertzi Halevy, who is set to complete his term as commander of the 91st Division, stationed on the Lebanese border, next year. But Gantz had already picked Halevy, considered one of the more outstanding IDF officers at his rank, to head the IDF's Command and Staff College.

It now seems that Gantz will defer to Netanyahu and allow him to interview Halevy. At this point, however, it is doubtful that Halevy would be given the military secretary job, which would entailed a promotion to major general's rank. Instead Gantz is expected to propose alternative candidates for the post.