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An ambassador in Mauritania, the director general of the Environment Ministry or the GOC Northern Command - which of the three is more important to the State of Israel, the well-being of its citizens and its chances of surviving and flourishing?

Judging by appointment procedures, it is clear who is least important - the GOC (and, like him, division heads in the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service, and commissioners in the police, though the identities of more and more ministers are familiar to the Investigations Division).

The appointment of delegation heads and directors of government ministries requires the approval of the entire government. GOCs are appointed by the chief of staff and the defense minister. The one proposes and the other signs - and not always in that order. One for me and one for you; my major general and your major general. Fates are decided on the 14th floor of the Defense Ministry compound in the Kirya, the fate of officers who are hungering for promotion, the fate - life and death - of soldiers and civilians for whom they are responsible, and the fate of the war and of the country.

Yesterday, a major general was added to the General Staff: Ido Nehushtan, head of the Planning and Policy Directorate. Nehushtan was, and will be, a candidate for the head of the air force. Chief of Staff Dan Halutz kept him in the army as head of the force's headquarters after Eliezer Shkedy was preferred over him. Alternatives arose and fell, and finally the Shafran-Nehushtan deal was cut: The head of the defense minister's staff, Brigadier General Ami Shafran, seven and a half years the aide of former chief of staff and defense minister Shaul Mofaz will be given the rank of major general and the C4I Directorate, and Nehushtan will get Planning and Policy.

On the bride's side, Defense Minister Amir Peretz signed the deal, cashing in a promise from Mofaz, after the appointment of Shafran as head of the Research, Development and Infrastructure Directorate didn't work out. Halutz had reservations about Shafran's appointment, but then changed his mind.

There is no reason to assume in advance that the two will not be effective in their roles. Nehushtan has the reputation of being a talented planner and force-builder, and Shafran has a suitable background in research and development in Military Intelligence, in the attache's office in Washington, and also for a short while as head of the Research and Development unit.

But placing him at the head of the C4I Directorate was a fluke, when it turned out that the head of Research and Development, Shmuel Keren, who was a partner in many of the problematic decisions on issues of intercepting the rockets, the tunnels and more, insists on remaining in his position for the fifth year now; and Nehushtan, who will be in charge of the strategy and multi-year plan for building up the IDF, is threatening to complete the transformation of Planning and Policy into a wing of the air force, because his two division heads, Brigadiers General Nimrod Sheffer and Udi Dekel, also come from there.

This is an unintentional outcome, but also not necessarily a wise one, when the main issue on the agenda is rehabilitating the ground forces and the correct balance among the branches of the IDF.

Within the army, the chief of staff has full liberty to choose major generals and give them appointments. He can decide in a level-headed way, and also according to caprices, a shared past, love-hate relations and group affiliation. If the defense minister is a former chief of staff, or a retired major general, the process replicates itself, in authorizing or tit-for-tat. Only in rare cases, such as head of Military Intelligence, who also maintains an official connection with the government echelon, do they bother to bring the appointment to the knowledge of a third person, the prime minister. When the prime minister is also the defense minister, only two are partner to the deal.

It all goes back to David Ben-Gurion, who, in 1948, wanted control of the appointment of all officers from second lieutenant up, and was compelled by his fellow politicians to make do himself with lieutenant colonel (and very quickly, colonel) up. Nearly 60 years later, outside the triangle of prime minister-defense minister-chief of staff, no one has any influence on the manning of command positions, nevermind brigadier generals in divisions.

Recently, the Military Advocate General's Office addressed an issue that will require legislation - the appointment of a substitute chief of staff. Ostensibly, this is obviously the deputy chief of staff; but only the defense minister and the chief of staff approve the appointment of deputy chiefs of staff, whereas the appointment of the chief of staff, and therefore also his replacement, entails a decision by the government, which does not choose among a number of candidates but only votes on the defense minister's candidate. Not that the government cares who the IDF major generals will be; what possible difference can the identity of the next GOC Northern Command make now?