Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Yoav Galant
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, right, and Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant near Kibbutz Kfar Aza, just outside the northern Gaza Strip, in 2008. Photo by Reuters
Text size

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to expedite the appointment of a new army chief of staff so as not to have to appoint a temporary Israel Defense Forces commander, a move that has raised serious opposition in the cabinet over the past two days.

Over the weekend, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are to complete their short list of candidates for the office to submit to the Turkel committee on senior appointments.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant is not giving up his fight to remain in the running for the post. Galant was to have succeeded Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi on February 14, but his appointment was revoked following complications in testimony he gave concerning his ownership of land in his moshav. He now wants his name on the list of candidates, so the final decision to disqualify him will be the Turkel committee’s.

The decision by Netanyahu and Barak Tuesday evening, after Galant’s appointment was revoked, to appoint Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh as temporary chief of staff was harshly criticized by the cabinet, Knesset and media. It was made after Barak said he could not continue to work with Ashkenazi.

Yesterday, seeking a way out of the imbroglio, Netanyahu, in consultation with Barak, decided to move the selection process ahead quickly.

Barak met yesterday afternoon with three of the candidates, Naveh, GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and former deputy chief of staff Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, who is on leave prior to his expected retirement from the army.

Barak’s office said he might interview additional candidates today.

The final list might indeed include an additional name. The names of GOC Central Command Avi Mizrahi and the IDF’s attache in Washington, Gad Shamni, have been mentioned in the IDF General Staff. It has also been suggested that a retired general, such as Moshe Kaplinsky who was deputy chief of staff until 2007, might be on the list. However, as of yesterday, Kaplinsky had not been approached by Barak’s office.

At the moment Gantz and Eizenkot appear to be the front-runners for the appointment.
Netanyahu, who increased his involvement in the selection process following the complications with Galant, has been approached over the past two days by retired senior officers in the Paratroop Brigade, who would like to see their former commander, Benny Gantz, get the position.

Netanyahu and Barak said that this time the Turkel committee would first determine that there was no reason not to appoint any of the candidates, and only then would Barak announce his recommendation to the cabinet.

Galant’s consultations over the past two days gave rise to the idea of demanding the inclusion of his name on the new list to be submitted to the Turkel committee. The decision to revoke Galant’s appointment has not yet gone into effect, and committee chairman Jacob Turkel said in a radio interview that he was not opposed in principle to revisiting Galant’s candidacy if he received additional material beyond that presented to him by the state comptroller and attorney general regarding Galant’s use of lands near his home in Moshav Amikam.

Barak also raised the possibility yesterday to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein of presenting Galant’s name again to the Turkel committee. However, Weinstein opposed the idea.

Galant has reportedly been encouraged by the position of Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman on the matter. However, the likelihood that Galant will be able to reenter the race by the back door appears slim.

Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said he would vote against the idea if it was presented at Sunday’s cabinet meeting. Some ministers, among them Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Shalom, are said to believe that the reason behind the plan to appoint a temporary chief of staff is the animus that exists between Barak and Ashkenazi, which Barak did not hide during TV interviews Wednesday.

Barak’s comments about “ethical and professional” problems involving Ashkenazi, in a veiled allusion to the findings of the state comptroller’s report currently being prepared about the Harpaz affair, involving a leaked document that Lt. Col. ‏(res.‏) Boaz Harpaz admitted to having forged to sabotage Galant’s appointment.

The state comptroller is expected to fault Ashkenazi on a number of matters: his actions to extricate Harpaz from various complications in the past; the presence in his office of the forged document without his having informed the government or officers involved; the fact that Ashkenazi allegedly showed the document to Gantz and Eizenkot; and the alleged involvement of his office in leaking the document to Channel 2.

However, some of the comptroller’s barbs will probably be directed at Barak because of his attitude to Ashkenazi and various steps Barak took with regard to the Galant appointment.

Meanwhile, Channel 1 reported last week that Barak called an emergency consultation to prevent Harpaz from going to Venezuela, for fear that he would leak state secrets.

Harpaz, who is to be indicted shortly on a forgery charge, is a member of Military Intelligence special forces.

Army Radio reported yesterday that sources close to Barak say Ashkenazi was involved in Harpaz’s planned trip to Venezuela, to help him avoid a trial, since Ashkenazi fears that it would lead to the revelation of embarrassing information about his own actions.

Ashkenazi also reportedly pressured the MI chief and the military advocate general not to ban Harpaz from leaving the country.

Military sources said yesterday: “These are baseless allegations that are nothing but an attempt to cast aspersions and create misrepresentation. Boaz Harpaz is a civilian, and issuing a prohibition on his leaving the country is the prerogative of the interior minister, who did so on January 29.”

The sources said Ashkenazi was not involved in the matter at all, and that they regretted the attempt to sully Ashkenazi’s name.