On a Friday morning in July 1973, Ariel Sharon finished his term as GOC Southern Command of the Israel Defense Forces. With a red beret and a smile on his face, he left the office of his superior officer and rival, chief of staff David Elazar. Sharon had come to say good-bye to Elazar, and also to squeeze out an assignment as commander of reserve division 143.
Elazar had another 18 months left as chief of staff. All the decision makers had ruled out Sharon as his potential successor.
So Sharon decided: If the top IDF post was not within his reach, and if a war with Egypt was not on the horizon, he would take off his uniform and enter politics. He had a little more than 100 days left before the next election, and by law, soldiers needed to leave the army at least 100 days before running for office.
Sharon knew Elazar would be delighted by his decision, and would give the Southern Command to Shmuel "Gorodish" Gonen. The rest of the story can be found in the books about the Yom Kippur War.
As GOC Northern Command, Gadi Eizenkot is Sharon's opposite. Eizenkot, who was Sharon's military secretary when Sharon was prime minister, also was passed over for the chief of staff post. There have been hints that he might be appointed in three years, but regardless, Eizenkot has remained in the IDF for one reason: to stay at his post, on the front, for another year, his fifth.
This decision apparently is motivated by his lack of confidence in both incoming chief of staff Yoav Galant and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. When Barak was prime minister, Eizenkot was his defense secretary, too. Barak has chosen Galant as the country's next chief of staff, and Eizenkot has refused to be his deputy chief of staff.
At the end of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Eizenkot was head of IDF operations, under then-chief of staff Dan Halutz. When GOC Northern Command Udi Adam quit his post, Eizenkot originally balked at Halutz's request that he replace him; he wanted to remain in the General Staff to help repair the flaws exposed during the war. Now, a few years later, Eizenkot had been hoping to succeed Gabi Ashkenazi as chief of staff, but said he would be willing to serve under any of Ashkenazi's deputy chiefs of staff - Moshe Kaplinsky, Dan Harel or Benny Gantz.
Gantz reportedly said, "I once thought I could be chief of staff, but now I don't think it; I am certain I must be chief of staff." When asked about the other candidates, he replied, "Gadi is also suitable" - as opposed to Galant.
Gantz and Eizenkot, members of the "northern front" led by their predecessor in GOC Northern Command, Ashkenazi, have yet to make public their reservations about GOC Southern Command Galant. As disappointed candidates, is their belief that the deck was stacked the only thing bothering them, or is it something deeper? On his way out, Gantz is just waiting to open his mouth. For some reason, Eizenkot believes the chief of staff appointment is not a done deal.
Barak's victory over Ashkenazi happened too fast, and it left four and a half long months for exploring the defense minister's ugly relations with a chief of staff who is still in uniform, and still can bolster support. For instance, alongside Barak's angry demand for explanations as to how the "Galant document" found its way from Lieutenant Colonel (res. ) Boaz Harpaz, Colonel Erez Wiener and Colonel (res. ) Gabriel Siboni to the media, one could demand to know how a remark by Major General Aviv Kochavi that apparently was detrimental to Ashkenazi and apparently suited Barak, made during a closed session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, found its way to the media (Amos Harel in Haaretz ).
Knesset members claimed they played no role in the affair, and hinted that the source of the leak was a report relayed to assistants by Colonel Shlomi Am-Shalom, deputy military secretary to Barak and a close associate of Barak's ministry chief of staff, Lieutenant Colonel (res. ) Yoni Koren. Want a confusing mess of colonels and lieutenant colonels? You can find that too.
Wiener, an assistant to the chief of staff, was in no way implicated by the police investigation but has little chance of being promoted to brigadier general. The icing on the cake is that he is considering filing a defamation complaint against Barak, who made unfounded accusations against him in a radio interview.
It can be inferred that Eizenkot is making his decisions based on the circumstances surrounding the end of Ashkenazi's term. Apparently, the militant combination of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak and Galant is spurring Eizenkot's fears that the IDF may be led into a hasty military operation, one not necessarily started in this region but that could lead to a war with Syria and Lebanon. Thus, he believes the responsible thing to do is to stay at his command. He is not a novice commander, or any kind of sequel to Gorodish. Such a conclusion by a moderate, experienced officer should worry all citizens.
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