gantz - Yaron Kaminsky - February 15 2011
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Moti Milrod
Yuval Diskin. Photo by Moti Milrod

The announcement yesterday of the appointment of Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai as the next Israel Defense Forces spokesman met overall approval in the General Staff. Mordechai, whose main military training is in intelligence, acquitted himself outstandingly in his most recent position as head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank and is widely respected.

While questions have been raised about Mordechai's media savviness and his learning curve in his new post, the choice of an officer with operational experience rather than a journalist or professional spokesman for the position has been applauded. Some observers also see the spokesperson's position as a way to keep Mordechai within the IDF while grooming him to be the coordinator of government activities in the territories.

Mordechai's appointment is the first of many that IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz will have to make in the months to come. A number of high-ranking officers are expected to retire or to receive new assignments over the next year or so. Gantz will have to promote at least four or five brigadiers general in their stead.

Head of Personnel Directorate Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir is to retire within a few months, and the same is probably true for Maj. Gen. Ami Shafran, head of C4I (command, control, communications, computers and information ), and Maj. Gen. Dan Biton, head of the technological and logistics directorate. This summer or a little after, GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot will also step down after nearly five years in the position. After returning from an academic leave he is expected to be appointed deputy chief of staff. The leading candidate to replace him in the Northern Command is GOC Home Front Command Maj. Gen. Yair Golan.

Consequently, Gantz will have to fill the top slots in C4I and in the personnel and the technological and logistics directorate, as well new heads for the northern and home front commands. In addition, Adm. Eliezer Marom, commander of the Israel Navy, is expected to step down by the end of year. He could be joined by Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit and by Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen, commander of the military colleges and of the Northern Corps.

The relatively large number of new appointments that will have to be made within a relatively short span of time is partly a function of the conduct of the General Staff in the past two years. The previous Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, was fairly conservative in that department; he made few new appointments, while the difficult relationship between him and Defense Minister Ehud Barak further restricted the options for significant rotations in the General Staff.

A few names stand out on the list of candidates for promotion. Brig. Gen. Orna Barbivai, chief of staff at the personnel directorate, is tipped as the favorite to be named the first female officer at her rank to be appointed to the General Staff, to replace Zamir as head of personnel. Other potential candidates for imminent promotion: Brig. Gen. Noam Tivon (a former Sayeret Matkal member who went on to command the Nahal Brigade and the West Bank forces ); Brig. Gen. Uzi Moskowitz (Armored Corps officer and former commander of Division 162, currently on academic leave ); Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon (commander of West Bank forces and former commander of Sayeret Matkal, the General Staff's elite special-operations force ); Brig. Gen. Eyal Zamir (Armored Corps officer, commander of Division 36 ); and Brig. Gen. Yoav Hareven (Artillery Corps officer, head of the Ground Forces headquarters ).

The Shin Bet security service is also waiting for a decision, one that is even more significant: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's choice for the next Shin Bet head. Yuval Diskin's term ends in under two months, on May 15. Netanyahu has promised to come to a decision within a few weeks; it could even happen this week, after a number of delays that have caused a lot of anxiety at the head of the agency.

Diskin's deputy, "Y." (like everyone in the Shin Bet with the exception of its head, the full name is under a gag order ), is thought to have the best odds to succeed his boss, followed by a previous deputy to Diskin, whose name also begins with Y. Netanyahu has interviewed the candidates as well as a few other higher-ups in the agency. According to the coalition agreement between Likud and the Labor Party, Netanyahu is to consult with Barak over appointments to head the intelligence agencies, but the prime minister has the last word.