The Battle That Vies With the Iran Issue

Appointment of the current and next chief of staff and the Iran operation are the bun and the hamburger, with Boaz Harpaz as the ketchup.

In October 2009, GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot sent then-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak a document warning against an attack on Iran. Eizenkot insisted it was his duty as an officer and a citizen, though he knew this would ruin his chances of being appointed chief of staff. This is the meeting point of two issues - the chief of staff and Iran - over which defense officials have been battling for three years.

The appointment of the current and next chief of staff and the Iran operation are the bun and the hamburger, with Lt. Col. (res ) Boaz Harpaz as the ketchup, which only sometimes looks like blood. The appointment of a deputy for Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, which will affect his successor's appointment, is due to be discussed soon. Two documents, one authentic and the other forged, will have a bearing on the effort to keep Eizenkot from being appointed - his document on Iran and the Harpaz document, which was meant to influence who would be chief of staff last time around.

When Eizenkot wrote his letter, Barak and Ashkenazi were still on the same side on the Iran issue. Their relations deteriorated due to the fight for the glory over Operation Cast Lead among Barak, Ashkenazi and GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant, and the controversy over appointing a deputy for Ashkenazi after Moshe Kaplinsky and Dan Harel had left their posts.

When Harel's retirement approached, Barak wanted Galant for the post, while Ashkenazi wanted Eizenkot. Barak hinted that his support for Galant for deputy chief of staff did not necessarily imply he would also support him for chief of staff. On the contrary, he seemed to favor Eizenkot, his former military secretary.

When the hour of decision in 2010 approached, Barak wanted to keep all three candidates - Eizenkot, Galant and Gantz - in the Israel Defense Forces. He feared Eizenkot's appointment as deputy chief of staff would mark him as the certain choice to become the 20th chief of staff, causing Galant and Gantz to resign immediately. On the other hand, forcing Galant's appointment would make Ashkenazi resign in protest.

So Barak agreed to Gantz's compromise appointment as deputy and announced, for Galant's and Eizenkot's benefit, that being deputy chief of staff would not be a condition for becoming chief of staff. But he erred when he did not make Galant move from Southern Command and take on, as his two rivals did, an additional major general's position such as head of the Operations Directorate or ground forces commander.

When Galant started acting as if he was assured of Barak's support, whether he heard it from Barak directly or as a bluff intended to convince his rivals the game was rigged, the officers in the General Staff felt Galant knew what he was talking about. Barak did not have to question him about his opinion on Iran. He saw him as a commander the troops would follow in the war Barak would produce. Not to mention that Eizenkot, who does not want an attack on Iran, said he was not ready to become chief of staff, as Ashkenazi's three deputies were.

Barak argued that the default option to Eizenkot's modesty and blocking Galant due to personal failures was a fifth year for Ashkenazi in office. This proves that the others aspiring to be chief of staff - Gantz, Avi Mizrahi and Gadi Shamni - were not really taken into consideration.

This murky atmosphere was the setting for the Harpaz affair, in which Eizenkot played a marginal role. Barak recoils in feigned horror from Harpaz, who has never been convicted. Neither Barak nor Gantz are bothered that a man with a criminal record, Yitzhak Mordechai, gets invited to lecture IDF commanders.

Gantz will recommend Eizenkot as his deputy and successor. If Barak refuses, the minister's battles against the chief of staff will resume, with Gantz in Ashkenazi's role. This will be revenge for the Harpaz affair and to avoid appointing a declared opponent of an attack on Iran.

This time Maj. Gen. (ret. ) Yaakov Or, who examined the Harpaz affair for the state comptroller, is expected to break his silence and speak out against the injustice of disqualifying Eizenkot.

Read this article in Hebrew