ashkenazi - Olivier Fitoussi - February 22 2011
Former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, center, with Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz in the Knesset. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima ) has asked the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to reconsider his bill to shorten the cooling-off period an Israel Defense Forces chief of staff must observe before running for Knesset, after the panel failed to support the bill the first time around.

Hasson's bill - which has been dubbed the Ashkenazi bill in reference to former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who retired earlier this month - would reduce the waiting period from the current three years to one and a half years.

In a letter to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who chairs the committee, Hasson argued that the current law "imposes an unbalanced limitation on the heads of the defense forces that infringes upon their democratic right to be elected to the Knesset as ordinary citizens, in comparison with other officeholders in the public and civil service." No other public-sector officials are required to wait three years, he said.

A period of a year and a half "would strike the proper balance between the public interest in maintaining the defense establishment's independence and the democratic right of leaders of the defense forces to be elected to the Knesset."

Also yesterday, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee took its leave of Ashkenazi, heaping praise on the IDF chief. Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ), himself a former chief of staff, credited Ashkenazi with restoring the IDF's strength and deterrent power.

In an apparent reference to the complications over choosing a successor to Ashkenazi, which resulted in the last-minute withdrawal of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's nomination for the post, Mofaz added, "In recent weeks, we have witnessed problems with decision-making at the level above the defense establishment. We have been exposed to difficult and improper developments that in many respects harmed the chief of staff as an institution. I hope in the future the approach will be the correct one."

Opposition leader and former foreign minister MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) underlined the importance of the position of chief of staff, saying the political leadership must have complete faith in his integrity and be confident that he has both "an internal compass and a conscience." She added that she never viewed the IDF as an institution that simply carries out policy decisions.

Former MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima ), who chaired the Knesset committee for most of Ashkenazi's tenure as chief of staff but resigned following a criminal conviction, said the public was concerned about the turmoil in the Middle East, and it was thus important to note that the balance of forces has not changed, and "the IDF remains capable of addressing any threat."

Former Defense Minister Amir Peretz (Labor ), who appointed Ashkenazi as director general of the Defense Ministry and later as IDF chief of staff, said the recently retired IDF chief was able to see the problems of the individual soldier as well as the bigger picture. "The State of Israel owes you a big thanks," Peretz added.

Another former defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor ), also expressed displeasure at the current minister, Ehud Barak (Atzmaut ), for his criticism of Ashkenazi.

Ashkenazi, in his remarks to the committee, noted that he had not only served four years as chief of staff, but also almost four decades in the IDF. "I leave with a feeling of satisfaction," he said.

Calling the IDF "extraordinary," he underlined the importance of rebuilding public confidence in it after the Second Lebanon War of 2006. "In the neighborhood in which we live," Ashkenazi noted, "it is important to maintain a strong army as a guarantee of the State of Israel's existence."