IDF chief Benny Gantz
IDF chief Benny Gantz Photo by Michal Fattal
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The head of the Israel Defense Forces should be the only one to decide who will be named commander of the air force, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said Sunday, responding to reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to promote a candidate who supports a military assault on Iran.

Netanyahu's preferred candidate for the post is Brig. Gen. Yohanan Locker, his military secretary.

"The commander of the air force is like any other major general," Gantz told the State Control Committee at the Knesset Sunday, during a debate on IDF appointments. "I don't see a difference between that and the commander of the navy or the commander of the Home Front Command. That's why there's a chief of staff. He summons the candidates, provides the explanations. That's how it needs to be."

Gantz did say he recognizes the defense minister's authority to select candidates for some senior positions, such as Military Intelligence chief, who works closely with the prime minister, and deputy chief of staff, who needs to be a suitable prospect for IDF chief when the current one leaves office.

But even then, he said the chief of staff must also approve the appointments.

"A situation in which a major general is appointed against the wishes of the chief of staff is untenable," Gantz said. "I also think that my opinion doesn't have to be the determining one for every position. I understand that not all the positions being filled are just what I think."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the cabinet would soon pass a resolution stating that the deputy chief of staff would become acting IDF chief if necessary, as recommended in a recent report on military appointments.

"Until now, this was understood; and now it will be official," Barak said.

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union ), a brigadier general in the reserves who attended the meeting, said the army psychologists and experts who screened the candidates were among those pushing the IDF toward mediocrity because they rejected the brilliant candidates who may not fit the mold.

"They have been given too much power because they think running the IDF is like running a factory," Eldad commented. "We won't win a war if the consideration is whether a brigade commander does or doesn't pass a course for brigade commanders."

Gantz said the screening committees' decisions were not the sole criteria for deciding on officer appointments.

Barak said he was not interested in imposing detailed restrictions on who can be promoted to major general - the highest IDF rank aside from the chief of staff's rank of lieutenant general.

The defense minister doesn't want to "restrict a major general appointment based on age, or based on his not being a graduate of the National Security College, or on the fact that he was in his previous position for too short a time," Barak told the committee. "There have to be guidelines - but no more."