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Israel Defense Forces Brigadier General Eliezer Shakedi will be the next commander-in-chief of the air force. Shakedi will be promoted to major general, and take up his post next April, replacing Commander Dan Halutz.

Notification of Shakedi's appointment was made public on Friday, when Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz approved IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon's recommendation. Shakedi, 46, was chosen ahead of a more veteran rival, Major General Amos Yadlin. Ya'alon asked Yadlin, who is currently commander of the IDF's military colleges, to remain on active service in the IDF.

Shakedi, a combat pilot, received the rank of brigadier general just three and a half years ago. He has for years been considered to be one of the IAF's outstanding officers. He currently holds the second highest position in the IAF.

In coming weeks, Mofaz and Ya'alon are expected to work out two other major IDF General Staff appointments, for the posts of deputy IDF chief of staff, and the head of the IDF Operations Directorate.

Outgoing IAF Commander-in-Chief Halutz is the front-runner to replace Major General Gabi Ashkenazi as deputy chief of staff; such an appointment would put Halutz on track to replace Ya'alon as chief of staff, when the latter ends his term in July 2005 (Ya'alon might extend his term one year).

Halutz was consistently evasive about naming his preference in the race to replace him as IAF commander-in-chief. He told anyone who asked that both Yadlin and Shakedi were worthy candidates. However sincere his answer might have been, Halutz also knew that backing the wrong candidate could harm his prospect of staying on the fast track to become deputy chief of staff.

A potential rival in the race to become the IDF's second ranking officer is Major General Doron Almog, who is currently involved in study and research in Washington. Top security officials, including Ya'alon himself, would be happy to add a third candidate to this race, Navy Commander-in-Chief Yedidia Ya'ari.

Should Sharon and Mofaz continue to serve as prime minister and defense minister when the time comes for the deputy chief of staff appointment, Halutz's prospects would be excellent.

Shakedi was a high school student during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and so his appointment symbolizes the ascent of a new generation of officers in the IAF. This is a generation which entered the military after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and whose combat flight experience derives from the period of the Lebanon War.

The IAF's Operations Branch, which Shakedi headed in the past (when he held the rank of colonel) has become a key platform for officers who eventually become air force commander-in chief.

Shakedi, along with Halutz and other former IAF commanders-in-chief, served as heads of relatively small air force bases before they received the top air force spot. This hints that appointments to head large IAF bases are not so promising, at least with respect to the race to become the IAF commander-in chief.