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Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz will not be permitted to stand in the forthcoming election, since he will not have completed a mandatory six-month cooling off period after the end of his military service. Mofaz announced last week that he plans to run for a spot on the Likud list ahead of the January 28 election.

The former chief of staff did not officially end his IDF career until August 11, 2002, despite his claim that he left the service on July 31. The bureau of new chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon confirmed Tuesday that, in a conversation between the outgoing army chief and his replacement on August 11, Mofaz told Ya'alon "I was discharged today." An IDF spokesman's announcement to the same effect was circulated that very evening.

Last week, attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein informed Mofaz that he may be eligible to stand for election, since according to the Hebrew calendar, the requisite six months had elapsed. Yesterday's confirmation renders that consideration irrelevant, however, since even according to the Hebrew calendar, it has not been six months since Mofaz left the IDF.

The difference between the two calendars is, over the period in question, seven days - 184 days in six Gregorian months and 177 according to the Hebrew calendar.

Even if his insistence that the Hebrew calendar is used were to be accepted, Tuesday's announcement scuppers any lingering hopes that Mofaz may have had of standing for the Knesset this time around, since his status on the days in question - July 31 to August 11 - was exactly the same as any other standing army soldier.

Mofaz's claim to have left active service on July 31 does not accurately reflect the reality, but, rather, is the outcome of his decision to choose one administrative option over another.

The release of conscripts, non-commissioned officers and junior officers is carried out at the IDF's induction base at Tel Hashomer. Senior officers are not required to make the trip to the base, but are allowed to complete the procedure by telephone. The head of the IDF's staffing department at the Personnel Directorate, Colonel Miriam Zaretzky, officially released Mofaz from the IDF during a telephone conversation on August 11, after offering him one of two financial arrangements.

Mofaz was asked to choose between receiving a salary until the end of August and then starting to receive his pension, or going into `retirement' from the end of July. The IDF does not allow for the payment of a salary and a pension during the same month, explains Zaretzky, meaning that if Mofaz insisted on leaving the army on August 11, he would receive a salary calculated by the number of days served in the month, rather than the number of days pension he should be entitled to.

Since the pension paid to a retired IDF chief is one third higher than that paid to a serving one, Mofaz opted to record July 31 as the official end of his military service. This does not change the fact, however, that Mofaz continued to serve as a soldier in the IDF until August 11.

Acting on instructions from the chief of staff, the Military Advocate General, Maj. Gen. Dr. Menahem Finkelstein, Tuesday began investigating the most intriguing legal aspect of the case - the contradiction between the Hebrew lunar calendar and the Gregorian solar calendar when calculating dates and periods of time mentioned in Israeli law.

Irrespective of which calendar is used, however, it became irrefutably clear Tuesday that Mofaz was in active IDF service until August 11. Mofaz's attempts to portray July 31 as the last day of his IDF service, as well as what is seen as his opportunistic use of the Hebrew-versus-Gregorian issue, have caused considerable embarrassment for the General Staff. During his tenure as chief of staff, for example, Mofaz did not insist on using the Hebrew calendar. His three-year appointment as chief of staff began on July 9, 1998 (15 Tamuz, 5758), and was extended last year by a further 12 months. His tenure ended on July 9, 2002 (29 Tamuz, 5762) - some two weeks after the completion of four Hebrew-calendar years.