barak ashkenazi - Tal Cohen - November 1 2010
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, November 2010. Photo by Tal Cohen
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In early October last year, Maj. Gen. (Res. ) Dan Harel placed a call to his friend, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. "Yair Naveh as deputy chief of staff?!" Harel said in disbelief.

Ashkenazi was astounded. It was true, Naveh, along with other individuals, had been invited to talk to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, but both Barak and Naveh had denied that Naveh was offered the No. 2 job in the Israel Defense Forces, which Benny Gantz would be leaving at the end of November.

Sometime earlier Harel had read in the press that Naveh was indeed a candidate for the job. Harel made an innocent phone call to Naveh offering to help if Naveh got the job in light of Harel's prior service himself as deputy chief of staff.

That same day, Naveh told Harel he would take him up on the offer of assistance, signaling that Barak had already offered Naveh the job.

Barak's animosity for Ashkenazi is legendary. After the failure of Yoav Galant's nomination, in an effort to pay Ashkenazi back and show him how independent he could be, especially with regard to the nomination of Galant, the defense minister demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refrain from extending Ashkenazi's term as chief of staff for a matter of weeks while the government looked for a new candidate.

In his "just not Ashkenazi" campaign, Barak is also showing he is prepared to forgo the services of a deputy chief of staff, because he is temporarily appointing Naveh chief for two months, when he would otherwise serve as deputy to the top job for that period.

That's unless it occurred to him to appoint a temporary replacement for a replacement. Otherwise he would settle for an acting chief of staff who was an officer who had returned to career military service on November 29, 2010, after three years in civilian life.

Naveh is considered an effective officer, as is Galant. He has never served as head of one of the important staff headquarters branches (intelligence, planning or operations ). He wants to be chief of staff, but under other circumstances he would not be among the top group of candidates. Barak wants him, at least at the moment, because Naveh is anyone but Ashkenazi.

Yesterday Barak suffered one of the toughest routs of his life, second only to his loss of the prime minister's post in the 2001 elections. The defense minister has devoted the past two years in Netanyahu's cabinet to eroding Ashkenazi's status, who had put obstacles in Barak and Netanyahu's path to Tehran.

Barak, in seeking to teach Galant's opponents a lesson in democracy, and speaking about a "putsch," didn't respect the democratic process through which the prior cabinet had approved Ashkenazi's four-year term.

It could be Barak also thinks the state comptroller, the attorney general and the High Court of Justice are also enemies of democracy, as defined by a system of enlisting institutional support to do Barak's will.

The whole battle was for naught, because Barak didn't thoroughly check Galant's background and denigrated the need to prepare to lay the groundwork and enlist support for the appointment. Galant, to his great misfortune, discovered that Barak's support is the Israeli equivalent of a Pyrrhic victory.

Netanyahu, having learned the lesson of his humiliation in the Galant affair, yesterday showed the first hesitant signs of cutting loose from Barak's grip. Suddenly, Netanyahu want a list of candidates for chief of staff, rather than being dictated to again.

That's the next stage, but first there's the matter of the appointment of an acting chief of staff. A bare majority is enough to stop Barak's caprices and force the defense minister to suffer Ashkenazi for another two months. It can be done. Michael Eitan is already on board. Just a dozen or so more are needed.