Once upon a time there were two young lieutenant colonels, who took part in joint missions, one as commander of the undercover Dudevan commando unit while the other commanded the raider squadrons in Flotilla 13, the naval commandos. They moved on, Uri Bar-Lev to the police and Yoav Galant to top ranks of the Israel Defense Forces, until they met up again in the south, the first as the Israel Police district commander, and the other as GOC Southern Command. Watching what his friend Bar-Lev is going through, Galant must surely wonder whether someone in the army is already planning something similar for him.
The next deputy chief of staff will enjoy a guaranteed advantage in the competition to succeed Gabi Ashkenazi as chief of staff. The current deputy, Dan Harel, is not considered to be in the running. If the IDF went out of its way to prove it was not ready for a fighter pilot as its chief of staff, it is not going to be ready for an artillery man as its chief, even if he served as a GOC. Harel, in the south, failed to radiate sufficient professional authority vis-a-vis the then Gaza Division commander, Shmuel Zakai from the Golani Brigade.
The leading candidates are Galant and the GOC Northern Command, Gadi Eisenkot, and at a distance, in Washington, awaits the elder of the major generals, Benny Ganz. Shaul Mofaz promised to make Ganz deputy to Dan Halutz, but Amir Peretz decided otherwise.
The appointment of Eisenkot, who is younger than Galant, will cause the retirement of much younger generals. Eisenkot and Galant are equally experienced as regional brigade and division commanders, as GOCs and military secretaries of prime ministers - an important post for getting a view on statesmanship and defense issues from a broader perspective. Galant climbed through the ranks of the Naval Commando, and as colonel served as chief of staff of the ground forces. Eisenkot spent much of his career in Golani. That may garner favor with Ashkenazi. Not surprisingly, Galant will think differently, and he was also not very impressed by Eisenkot's performance as chief of operations two years ago, during the Second Lebanon War.
The crucial question will be who makes the appointment. Only the cabinet is authorized to appoint a chief of staff, and only the defense minister is authorized to put forth a candidate. But the prime minister and the outgoing chief of staff can tip the balance. A prime minister can rally a majority in his cabinet against a minister's decision, and a chief of staff can move closer or ahead of time to avert potential candidates.
The real test is for the politicians. David Ben-Gurion never let a chief of staff appoint a deputy he wanted and did not retire officers the chief of staff did not like, including Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon. Moshe Arens forced Moshe Levy to keep Dan Shomron. A minister in charge of a military or police organization is concerned about the future of that body and is responsible for preventing the creation of a self-perpetuating sect; to support the ruling management so as to avoid chaos and loss of control in the organization, but also to protect the next generation, which may be at odds with the chief of staff or the chief of police.
If the power of the defense minister in relation to the chief of staff is limited by law - according to the law the chief of staff is the supreme commander of the army, and appointments should not be imposed on him from above (even though the minister must approve any appointments of colonels and higher) - then the way the police works makes the public security minister more powerful than the police chief. The minister makes appointments from chief superintendent and up, and the chief of police only makes recommendations. Thus, then minister Shlomo Ben-Ami overruled the incoming police chief Shlomo Aharonishki's appointment of Moshe Mizrahi as chief of investigations; otherwise, Ben-Ami would have found a different volunteer to take the post of police chief. Avi Dichter, who gave in to David Cohen, is not Ben-Ami.
Cohen does not like Bar-Lev. It happens. In his persistence, Cohen turned Bar-Lev from just another not very well-known officer to a national figure, with much broader public support than that enjoyed by the police chief and the minister. Of course, it would be best if Bar-Lev would not let that go to his head. The army and the police are like enormous oceans that swallow in their depths even the largest and most sophisticated of ships. The ships go down, and the seas grow calm again. In crises it is often possible to rise to the top from the bottom of the abyss. It happened to another Bar-Lev, Haim, on the eve of the Six-Day War, when Rabin had a breakdown, and Ezer Weizman was thought to be too wild.
Uri Bar-Lev's present may be raucous, but his future looks more promising than that of Dichter and Cohen. Those whose hand is too quick to remove people lose their immunity and their position. There are many examples, including former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon vs. Zakai; then police chief Moshe Karadi vs. Mizrahi; Peretz and Halutz vs. Gal Hirsch. When the next cabinet meets, the new public security minister has to rebuild on the ruins of Dichter and will look with a different eye at the senior police appointments, which comes with not having appointed Cohen and not having to protect him. At the same time, Defense Minister Ehud Barak or someone else will influence the future of the IDF through the appointment of a new deputy chief of staff. The Bermuda Triangle of Dichter, Cohen and Bar-Lev reflects the degree to which a minister takes a risk when he gives in under duress to the police chief (or the chief of staff).
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