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Very quietly, last month, at the request of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the cabinet appointed Hagai Tannenbaum-Erez as the Defense Ministry's comptroller of the defense establishment. Haggai who? For the post that had so far been filled by generals and other senior reserve officers?

In the 1990s, when Barak was Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Erez was in charge of oversight in the Israel Defense Forces.

His achievements as comptroller in the Transportation Ministry are undisputed because they are unknown. Someone wanted him as defense establishment comptroller, rather than an individual with status and power, who might find defects and dig into them.

That same individual in Barak's office did not take the trouble to consult with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi before appointing Erez, although the comptroller also scrutinizes the Defense Ministry's military aspects and is invited to expanded meetings of the IDF General Staff, which is problematic in itself, like inviting the state comptroller to cabinet meetings.

After the harsh attack on Ashkenazi's confidant, IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, the chief of staff received another insult from Barak; and Ashkenazi knows insults.

He has a long memory. He does not always get even, but he almost always bears a grudge. Barak differs from Ashkenazi the way the IDF's elite Sayeret Matkal unit differs from the Golani Brigade.

Barak's approach to people is cold, goal-oriented and utilitarian. It's nothing personal; he is focused on the objective, and the objective is aggrandizing his power.

There was no real need to release an official statement about not giving Ashkenazi a fifth year. The only real benefit was to remind us of the extent of the powerlessness of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the institution that ultimately controls the IDF: the cabinet.

The news should not open with a sensational expose by the meteorologist that the sun will come up tomorrow. But in the affair of the fifth year, someone is to blame and someone is responsible.

The responsibility is Ashkenazi's and the blame is Barak's. Ashkenazi was drafted from civilian life for three years. To his surprise, the cabinet, as instructed by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, gave him another year. Four years are more than enough, Ashkenazi let it be known for a long time, almost begging for time off for good behavior.

When the press began to deal with the matter of a fifth year, first mentioned by Amos Harel in this newspaper and quickly taken up by the rest of the media, Ashkenazi should have taken an immediate and unequivocal stand - he wants it or he doesn't.

When he vacillated, he created the impression that he was getting used to the idea and even falling in love with it, or at least was glad he was being courted.

Slowness at arriving at such decisions is one of Ashkenazi's weak points. It stood out in the affair of Moshe (Chico) Tamir, who made the mistake of believing that Ashkenazi would be lenient with him after they spoke.

As for the length of his tenure as chief of staff, Ashkenazi hesitated and did not see the change in the situation: Barak listened to his advisers and decided to be a tough ruler, to make order in the system. The move failed and Barak appeared petty, argumentative for no reason and jealous of the beloved chief of staff, who is threatening to step into the space Mr. Security has carved out.

The generals who covet the epaulets of a lieutenant general have learned that there is a chief of staff, but there is also a supreme chief of staff, Barak's bureau chief Yoni Koren, who is still trying to decide who to crown Ashkenazi's successor.

Those who seek advancement will try to turn their character and functional defects into advantages in the eyes of those who will decide their fate, and will worry that their good points will be seen as deficiencies.

The citizens of Israel are within their rights to wonder, in the wake of the Barak-Ashkenazi clash, whether the right person will be appointed and whether it will be for the right reasons.