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At Kaplan Hospital near Rehovot, Maj. Gen. ( res. ) Israel Tal lies in critical condition, a three weeks shy of his 86th birthday. For more than four years, former prime minister Ariel Sharon, an old friend of Tal's, has been lying at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, where his condition is just as grave.

Tal and Sharon are two of the last surviving commanders who shepherded the Israel Defense Forces in the first quarter-century of the State of Israel, from the War of Independence to the Yom Kippur War, even though neither of them realized their dream of being appointed chief of staff.

They are incapable of knowing that Ehud Barak, their joint object of admiration dating from his ascendancy as a young officer, recommended yesterday that the government appoint the first IDF chief who was born after the Sinai Campaign of 1956 and who enlisted in the army after the Yom Kippur War.

Yet the appointment of Yoav Galant, who was hired to be Sharon's military secretary during the latter's term as prime minister, reflects not just a changing of the generational guard, but also a double gamble by Barak: that his pick will be approved and that Galant will turn out to be the right chief of staff for the next few years.

Barak is a stubbornly aggressive man who does things deliberately just to annoy others. In his eyes, quality is less important than the ability to dictate his terms. If Gabi Ashkenazi and others wanted to thwart Galant's ascendancy to the top job, then Barak will show them, even before the end of the police investigation into a letter appearing to indicate that Galant wanted to launch a PR campaign to help him get the job.

As to what the investigation will reveal, there is nobody on the face of the earth, Barak included, who can claim to know. Boaz Harpaz, who brought the Galant document to Ashkenazi, was considered very close to the IDF chief, even grateful to him for the way Ashkenazi treated him during a difficult period in his life. The likelihood that Harpaz stabbed Ashkenazi in the back is not high. Either Harpaz was also fooled with the help of a forged document, or the document is authentic and its origins will be traced to an office belonging to a senior IDF officer. Granting immunity or the status of state's witness to Harpaz could do wonders for his willingness to volunteer information as to where the document originated. If the mystery is not solved, doubt will hover above Galant's term like the reconnaissance balloons hanging over the Israel-Gaza border.

After the weekly cabinet meeting yesterday, some ministers got angry about the conduct of Barak and the prime minister serving under him, Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom were accused of deceiving them.

Netanyahu, Barak and Galant are gambling that the appointment will not be scuppered by a third party, either from the police or another legal authority. If Galant's appointment as IDF chief is approved, then the army will move onto its next gamble, a far more fateful one. Barak is not allowed to delude himself that he, a former chief of staff, prime minister and defense minister (twice ), will always be there to tutor Galant from above. It would suffice to recall a similar fantasy harbored by Sharon, who named Dan Halutz chief of staff.

The main gaps on Galant's resume are Northern Command and General Staff, so he needs a deputy chief of staff who is well acquainted with both fronts. If GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot refuses to remain in the military, then the next best bet is Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi, the former commander of the 36th Division in the Golan Heights.