A curious quirk of Israeli military etiquette has resulted in there being two highest-ranking officers - at least in English.
The Israel Navy commander, Rear Admiral Eliezer Marom, appears in the navy's English-language publications as a vice admiral, which gives him a rank equivalent to that of the chief of staff, who is a lieutenant general.
The navy commander also wears the sleeve stripes of a vice admiral, not a rear admiral, on his foreign dress uniform. Marom wore this on his visit last December to Washington, where he was the guest of the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, among other occasions.
Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who evidently was unaware of Marom's "foreign" ranking, is expected to appoint a team to sort the quandary out.
The chief of staff is supposed to be the only Israel Defense Forces officer with the rank of rav-aluf, which corresponds to the rank of three-star general, or lieutenant general, in foreign ground and air services. The Israeli rank of aluf corresponds to the rank of two-star general (major general). The navy commander, who is subordinate to the chief of staff just like the other majors general, is a two-star admiral (rear admiral).
However, in photos of the Roughead-Marom meeting at the Pentagon, distributed by the U.S. Navy, Marom is wearing the uniform of a vice admiral. He also carries that rank in American reports on Roughead's visit to Israel, and even on the English version of the Israel Navy Web site. While hosting Roughead in Israel, when he met with Ashkenazi and others, Marom wore his rear admiral uniform.
In response to questions about the odd state of affairs, the IDF Spokesman's Office said yesterday, "Since the 1990s, Israel Navy commanders have been presented to their foreign counterparts as vice admirals, under special authorization from the chief of staff at the time, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak."
The navy chief during Shahak's tenure was Alex Tal, who was followed by Yedidya Yaari and David Ben-Ba'ashat.
Contrary to the IDF Spokesman's statement, Israel Navy commanders have presented themselves as vice admirals not just "to their foreign counterparts," but rather in every foreign-language publication. However, officers whose jobs are no less important than that of the navy chief, and who maintain frequent contact with their foreign counterparts - such as deputy chief of staff, Israel Air Force commander, and Military Intelligence head - cannot use the rank of lieutenant general.
What sets the navy apart, its officers claim, is the structure of navies throughout the world, which differs from that of air and ground services. But this does not suffice to explain why the navy commander is the only officer in the IDF who presumes to be equal in rank to the chief of staff.
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