IDF soldiers in Second Lebanon War, Nir Kafri
IDF soldiers in the Second Lebanon War. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Defense Minister Ehud Barak last night approved the first round of appointments to the General Staff ahead of the change of guard at the post of Chief of Staff, with Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant taking over from Gabi Ashkenazi in five months. The appointments were made on the basis of Ashkenazi's recommendations in consultation with Galant.

Maj. Gen. Tal Russo will replace Galant as GOC Southern Command. Russo currently serves as head of the operations directorate at the General Staff and is the only General Staff member who did not graduate from the IDF officers' course, but was commissioned in recognition of his conduct during the First Lebanon War as a squad leader in an elite airborne unit.

Replacing Russo will be Brigadier General Ya'akov Ayash, who will be promoted to Major General. Ayash served in a number of senior posts in the armored corps and most recently served as chief of staff of the Ground Forces.

Another officer who will join the General Staff is Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, who will be in charge of Military Intelligence, replacing Amos Yadlin who will retire after five years in the job. Kochavi is a paratrooper who served as a brigade commander during Operation Defensive Shield and also commanded the Gaza Division. It is rare for a general to be appointed head of MI as his first posting at the General Staff.

The possibility that Kochavi would take over at MI was first raised more than a month ago, an idea originally backed by Ehud Barak and then by Ashkenazi. As early as a decade ago he was considered a rising star and the fact that his promotion to Major General was delayed by two years was surprising. In addition to the infighting between Ashkenazi and Barak, the fact that Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas while Kochavi commanded the Gaza Division led many to surmise that this was the reason for the delay.

The head of MI is the only general on the General Staff authorized to bypass the chief of staff in bringing an independent view to the defense minister and prime minister, and is responsible for the annual National Intelligence Assessment.

The post was held for GOC Northern Command Gadi Eisenkot, who was one of the candidates for the post of chief of staff. Eisenkot announced recently that he preferred to stay, for the time being, as GOC Northern Command.

Another general who is expecting to be promoted in the near future is Yair Golan, who heads the Home Front Command. He is now considered a leading candidate to replace Eisenkot when he decides to step down from GOC Northern Command.

The spot that is also expected to be filled in the near future is that of deputy chief of staff, after Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz retires from the army after he also failed in his bid to replace Ashkenazi as chief of staff.

IDF sources say that the chances that Eisenkot will accept the job of deputy chief of staff are slim, and the leading candidates are IDF Military Attache in Washington, Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, and Israel Air Force commander Ido Nechushtan.

The current round of appointments was apparently smooth and the three - Barak, Ashkenazi and Galant - managed to overcome the strain that predominated during the race for the post of chief of staff, even though the aftershocks of the Galant document affair are still reverberating through the Kirya Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv.