Gabi Ashkenazi Sept. 5, 2010 Alon Ron
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi meeting with Or Yehuda high school students on Spetember 5, 2010. Photo by Alon Ron
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The cabinet approved on Sunday the appointment of GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant as the Israel Defense Forces' 20th chief of staff, to take over in February unless his predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi, steps down early because of his troubled relationship with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Ashkenazi said that Maj. Gen. Galant will take over "at the time that has been set, in six months."

Barak has already limited the next chief of staff's tenure to three years, unless special circumstances require the extension to a fourth year. Galant's appointment passed with a large majority in the cabinet.

Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon boycotted the meeting to protest the rushed process of the appointment. Ya'alon said his decision did not stem from opposition to Galant, but because of the way the appointment was brought before the cabinet and because of the affair involving a forged document that has not yet been resolved.

Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog voted in favor of the appointment but criticized the government for serving as a mere rubber stamp because the overlap period between the two chiefs of staff had already begun.

Only Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan opposed the appointment. He criticized the chief of staff-designate for his behavior as a "mafioso" during his tenure as GOC Southern Command. Eitan referred to a real estate affair involving Galant at Amikam, the moshav where the general lives, and the report prepared by the deputy attorney general, Mike Blass.

Eitan told Haaretz Sunday night that "in addition to taking over dozens of dunams of land in unacceptable ways," Galant's behavior in other disputes makes him ineligible to be a senior commander.

"In one instance, which involved the use of vehicles on a path meant for pedestrians, there was a need to take legal measures to prevent him from using that path," Eitan said.

"In the second case, in which he planted olive trees on 28 dunams of land that did not belong to him, he agreed to move the trees only after a petition was filed on the matter. But he only did so three years later. When you read about how these things unfolded you see a person who will use any means, takes over land that does not belong to him, and annexes public property."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the cabinet meeting that "Galant has proved himself during 33 years of serving in the front line of the IDF. He proved himself as a brave soldier, an excellent officer, and a rational and responsible commander in battle. He continues a tradition of devotion and excellence that Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has imprinted on the IDF. I wish to thank both of them."

Barak told the cabinet that he had consulted with former senior defense officials before appointing Galant. He avoided discussing the matter with four of the five previous chiefs of staff: Ashkenazi, Ya'alon, Shaul Mofaz, and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. The only one he did consult was Dan Halutz.

Barak, Ashkenazi and Galant held their first coordination meeting on Sunday after the approval of the appointment by the cabinet.

The defense minister also asked that the Brik Committee present its conclusions to him on the forged document affair - the so-called Galant document that ostensibly supported Galant's candidacy - by October 7.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss continues to hold talks with senior staff on whether to launch an independent investigation into the Galant document, and the relationship between the defense minister, the chief of staff and Galant's appointment.