Yoav Gallant, L, and Gabi Ashkenazi, September 2009
Yoav Gallant, L, and Gabi Ashkenazi, September 2009 Photo by Alberto Denkberg
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GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant has denied that efforts are underway to support his candidacy for Israel Defense Forces chief of staff by waging a campaign against one of his competitors and the current man in the job.

If a document reported by Channel 2 news supporting this assertion is genuine and PR consultant Eyal Arad's firm plans to cause a rift between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Maj. Gen. Galant will have to leave the race for chief of staff.

Arad is to file a police complaint today over the document, which bears his firm's logo. Yesterday Arad denied that he or anyone at his firm wrote the document. He also denied that he or any of his people were connected to the race for chief of staff.

Arad has invited the authorities to check the computers in his office to show that he has no connection to the document.

"I did meet Yoav during the period he was in [Ariel] Sharon's office," Arad told Haaretz yesterday. "But I have not met him since then and have spoken to him only a few times over the phone."

People who have spoken with Galant say he is shocked at what he describes as a crude fabrication against him and that he has no connection to Arad.

The document cites the need to develop an "insult effect" against Ashkenazi following the announcement of the round of interviews with candidates for chief of staff. The document also cites the need to sharpen disagreements between Ashkenazi and Galant over Operation Cast Lead - the Gaza offensive in the winter of 2008-09.

It was also suggested that Galant be portrayed more positively in terms of "humanity, maturity, experience and command." The document also suggested creating a negative campaign against Deputy Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who is in the race. Alternatively, Gantz could be appointed head of the Shin Bet security service.

In any case, an extensive investigation is needed to discover the truth, and the race for the 20th chief of staff has apparently hit a new low.

Relations between Barak and Ashkenazi have been rocky for some time. They dipped precipitously last summer when Ashkenazi sought to promote GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot to deputy chief of staff as a springboard to become next chief of staff. Barak preferred Galant, but because Ashkenazi was dead set against the latter, Barak installed Maj. Gen. Gantz as a compromise.

In February, Barak's office responded aggressively to a rather clumsy attempt by some of Ashkenazi's supporters to arrange a fifth year for him as chief of staff. In April, Barak humiliated Ashkenazi with an official statement that Ashkenazi's term would end after four years, as per the law.

Since the end of May, after the complications in the naval commando's attempt to take over a Turkish aid ship to Gaza, Barak's and Ashkenazi's offices have slung mud at each other.

Meanwhile, of the three main candidates for chief of staff - Galant, Gantz and Eizenkot - Galant is the most determined. Maj. Gen. Eizenkot avoids politicians and PR consultants, and Gantz has learned over the years that he can better attain his goals by keeping a low profile while other candidates stumble and fail.

Galant has a prominent cheerleader and a harsh opponent. The cheerleader is Yoni Koren, Barak's chief of staff, who has known Galant since they were in the Scouts together more than 30 years ago. Ashkenazi and his spokesman, Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, reportedly cannot stand Koren.

Ashkenazi, however, has allegedly had it in for Galant ever since they faced off over credit for Operation Cast Lead. Ashkenazi has said recently that Galant is not an appropriate choice for chief of staff. He has reportedly attacked Galant's norms of command and what he says are Galant's close links to business people and strategic advisers, especially members of former prime minister Ariel Sharon's so-called ranch forum.

Galant was Sharon's military secretary for three years.

Ashkenazi allegedly has been sure for months that Galant has won. But despite Koren's efforts, Barak has still not announced his choice. Meanwhile, claims have abounded recently, some coming from people close to Ashkenazi, that Galant has hired PR consultants to promote his campaign.

Officers in the General Staff have talked about a plan to promote Galant. It is possible that the rumors were also on the agenda at Barak's meeting with Gantz early last week, after which Barak announced on Wednesday that he would begin his round of interviews with the candidates.

On Thursday, Channel 2 military correspondent Roni Daniel reported that "at least one candidate has image consultants." On Friday, two Web sites were checking similar claims regarding Galant, but did not release them.

On Friday night, Daniel and Amnon Abramovich dropped the bombshell: a document with the logo of Arad's firm, including a series of recommended steps, some of them subversive, to have Galant selected as chief of staff.

Some of the elements in the document have come to pass. Barak has indeed invited two "straw" candidates that have no real chance (GOC Central Command Avi Mizrahi and Maj. Gen. Gad Shamni ) for interviews, and anonymous individuals have been working to worsen relations between Barak and Ashkenazi and push the current chief of staff aside.

A few elements of the affair don't seem to add up. Even if Arad did compose the document, it's hard to imagine that he would commit it to paper with his firm's logo. Moreover, people in Netanyahu's office and his wife Sara Netanyahu reportedly cannot stand Arad. Why would Galant choose an adviser who is like a red flag before a bull in terms of Netanyahu?

Past and present senior defense officials said yesterday they were shocked and disgusted at the report of the document. Few would say, even without attribution, who might be telling the truth and who might be lying in the affair.

What many did say, however, was that the hundreds and thousands of soldiers and officers in the IDF will be upset by the way the IDF top brass apparently handles matters.