barak - Alex Kolomoisky - Sept 3 2010
Ehud Barak, right, and Gabi Ashkenazi earlier this year. Photo by Alex Kolomoisky
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Defense Minister Ehud Barak is apparently seeking to shorten Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's term of office, if one reads between the lines of a statement his office released following a meeting with the General Staff yesterday.

The statement, released after Barak met with the top brass for a New Year's toast, is a direct attack on those he believes sought to prevent Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's appointment as Ashkenazi's successor, and took a more strident tone than Barak has previously adopted on this issue.

In it, Barak said he was "concerned over the attempt by senior officers, in the career army and the reserves, to stop and postpone the process of appointing the next chief of staff and to illegitimately impact the outcome" - a reference to the so-called "Galant document," a forgery purporting to be advice from a public relations firm on how Galant should promote his bid to succeed Ashkenazi.

That accusation contradicts the police's conclusion, which was that Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz alone was responsible for forging the document.

And though Barak did not mention Ashkenazi by name, many of those present at the meeting concluded that the "senior officers" to whom the minister referred were those in Ashkenazi's inner circle. One of Ashkenazi's aides has admitted giving the document - which he thought was real - to the reservist officer who ultimately passed it to the media.

The statement then gave a quick civics lesson on the Basic Law on the Army, "which states that the chief of staff is the supreme commander of the army and the IDF is under the authority of the government and the chief of staff is under the defense minister."

Finally, the statement announced Barak's intention to reverse a 2007 cabinet decision that lengthened the chief of staff's term from three years to four, and put it back at three.

Taken altogether, many of those present concluded that Barak was resuming his war on Ashkenazi, with the goal of pushing him out of the army as quickly as possible - even before his term officially ends in February.

Angry reactions from Ashkenazi's camp were not long in coming. "Mr. Barak, enough," Maj. Gen. (res. ) Uri Saguy, a friend of Ashkenazi's, said in an interview with Channel 10 television. "Leave the chief of staff alone already."

Galant's appointment as the next chief of staff is expected to be approved by the cabinet on Sunday, after the committee in charge of vetting senior senior civil service appointments approved his candidacy earlier this week.

The cabinet is expected to set Galant's term as three years with an option for a fourth. But it will not decide when Galant will replace Ashkenazi. Rather, the proposed resolution says merely that "Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi will end his term as IDF chief of staff when Galant takes up the post."

The vetting committee had reportedly been troubled by media reports that Galant, a resident of Moshav Amikam, was cultivating land near his home that he had not acquired legally. Media reports also suggested that he had taken over open areas by paving roads and planting trees on them without authorization. The committee therefore asked the attorney general to investigate Galant's alleged misconduct with regard to moshav lands.

Deputy Attorney General Malkiel Blass examined all the claims and found that in one case, Galant stopped using the land only after legal proceedings were initiated, while in another case, three years passed before he redressed the problem. In a third case, involving landscaping in a public area, the facts could not be completely ascertained, Blass wrote.

Galant himself told the committee the matter had been "much ado about nothing."

Nevertheless, the committee eventually decided that Galant was a "worthy candidate for the post of chief of staff," and the land incidents did not demonstrate improper conduct that would disqualify him from the post.