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Eisenkot Wins First Battle With His Choice of Central Command Chief

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Roni Numa, September 2014.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

Maj. Gen. Roni Numa has been named the new Central Command chief, the first major Israel Defense Forces appointment made by incoming Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had initially intended to appoint Maj. Gen. Noam Tibon to the position, and had even come to understandings to this effect with outgoing Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz. But Eisenkot insisted, and Ya’alon approved his nomination of Numa. As a result, Tibon has announced his retirement from the IDF after more than 30 years’ service.

Eisenkot and Tibon don’t get along, and the incoming chief of staff objected to Ya’alon’s plan to place Tibon in such a critical position. The Central Command assignment is considered particularly sensitive at present, since the absence of a diplomatic process and the Palestinian Authority’s application to join international bodies is liable to lead to renewed violence in the West Bank in the coming year.

Military Intelligence’s assessment for 2015 said confrontations in the West Bank are more likely than in previous years.

Eisenkot’s insistence on Numa’s appointment reflects his desire to retain the maximum possible influence on the manning of the General Staff positions. Traditionally, the decisions on most appointments or promotions of major generals are done by agreement – the chief of staff proposes and the defense minister approves – but often the process drags on for a lengthy period of power games between the two, until a joint decision is made.

Whether it’s because he ascribes great importance to the Central Command position or because he wanted to mark out his turf from the start, Eisenkot remained firm, and Ya’alon decided to accept his opinion.

Tibon is currently commander of the Northern Division, which is responsible for warfare in the Lebanon area. After last summer’s war in Gaza, he was tasked with coordinating the General Staff investigations of exceptional incidents – primarily cases in which large numbers of Palestinian civilians were killed. He told Gantz and Ya’alon yesterday that he plans to resign immediately, before Eisenkot takes command of the IDF next month.

Numa was promoted to major general last September, when he took over command of the Depth Corps, a unit formed a few years ago to coordinate the army’s long-range operations deep in enemy territory. He will thus not have been in the job long enough to have had any real impact.

He will be replaced by former Southern Command commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Tal Russo, who will do the job as part of his reserve duty. This decision will save money, because the cost of maintaining a major general in the standing army is higher.

It seems that Eisenkot is looking to cut back on other major-general positions in the career army – perhaps in another corps – as a symbolic acknowledgement of the ongoing controversy about the size of the defense budget.

Numa will be replacing Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, who will move to head the IDF Operations Directorate. The choice of Alon, who is considered one of outstanding generals on the general staff, is meant to convey that Eisenkot attributes great importance to the Operations Directorate and sees its head as the No. 3 man in the army, after the chief of staff and his deputy. An idea Gantz had considered – to merge the Operations Directorate with the Planning Directorate – will apparently not be implemented.

In another appointment announced yesterday, Brig. Gen. Yoel Strick will be promoted to major general and head the Home Front Command. Strick, 49, did most of his service in the Givati Brigade, which he also commanded. Among other things, he was head of the general staff’s Operations Division and commander of the Galilee Division, which is responsible for the Lebanese border.

Eisenkot’s first appointments indicate a desire to bring down the average age of the General Staff. The current Home Front Command chief, Maj. Gen. Eyal Eizenberg, and current Operations Directorate head, Maj. Gen. Yoav Har-Even, have yet to be reassigned. It could be that one of them, along with other older generals, will follow Tibon out of the IDF.

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