IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi Photo by Emil Salman
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Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is reportedly considering retiring ahead of schedule following the major crisis with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The cabinet is scheduled to vote today on the appointment of Ashkenazi's successor, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, who is supposed to start his term in February 2011. However, given the tension between Ashkenazi and Barak, which peaked after Barak's remarks to the General Staff forum about "officers who tried illegitimately to stop Galant's appointment," Ashkenazi may consider retiring before that date.

Some of Ashkenazi's associates say he should retire after the fall holidays because of the poor relations with Barak. Others say he will be playing into Barak's hands if he does not finish his term.

Members of the general staff said Barak's attack last Thursday came out of nowhere. Barak read the statement from a note he had prepared and left immediately after the New Year's toast.

Barak's bureau rejected allegations that he was trying to shorten Ashkenazi's term. Officials close to the minister said his decision to appoint a committee to examine the so-called "Galant document" stemmed from the need to examine matters of values that the police had not addressed.

Barak's accusation that "senior officers in the career army and the reserves" had been involved in a plot to stop Galant's appointment sounded like an attack on Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi's office had a copy of the document, which purportedly outlined a PR campaign to help Galant become the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, before it was leaked to Channel 2.

Barak's bureau yesterday released other portions of his statement to show he had also complimented the General Staff and Ashkenazi. He said the General Staff was an "excellent group, motivated by a sense of mission and responsibility."

The defense minister said of his decision to quickly present Galant's appointment to the cabinet for a vote: "There are many worthy and talented candidates. In the end only one can be chosen and I concluded that Yoav was the right choice. The current chief of staff, Gabi, has another six months full of achievements."

These quotes were not included in the remarks his bureau released after the forum's meeting.

General Staff members slammed Barak's decision to appoint Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yitzhak Brick, the IDF ombudsman, to head the committee investigating the Galant document. Despite Brick's honesty and fairness, Barak appointed him to his post a year ago, they said. Some officers said the IDF should not cooperate with the committee.

Senior defense officials unconnected to the General Staff, who criticized Ashkenazi's conduct in the affair, said they were surprised Brick accepted the task under the circumstances, noting that this was asking for trouble.

Although police concluded that man suspected of forging the Galant document, Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz, had worked alone, both Barak's and Ashkenazi's associates reportedly believe the incident has not been thoroughly investigated.

General Staff officers say there might be a connection between Harpaz and the defense minister's bureau, although this has not been proven. The minister's bureau, however, is interested in finding out whether there may be a deeper connection between Ashkenazi, his aide Col. Erez Weiner, other senior officers and Harpaz.