Monday's announcement of the appointment of Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot as the next deputy chief of staff is the inevitable and belated signal of the end to the witch-hunt caused by the Harpaz affair among the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces General Staff.
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Eizenkot was dragged into the affair against his will, first by Ashkenazi and afterward mainly as a result of the superfluous intervention of two of his close friends, current Mossad chief Tamir Pardo (at the time still only a candidate for the job) and Col. (res.) Gabi Siboni. Now, two years and four months after the affair erupted, a week after the distribution of the state comptroller's final report to those involved (although the report has yet to be made public), the appointment was finally approved.
Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has long been interested in appointing Eizenkot as his deputy, an essential way station, in his opinion, before his future appointment as Gantz's successor. Barak preferred to wait, in light of the Harpaz affair. The first draft of the state comptroller's report, which was issued last March, included criticism of Eizenkot's conduct, although the criticism was not particularly harsh and probably did not represent a real obstacle to the appointment.
In the final draft, the wording is even more moderate. After Gantz gave a warm recommendation, the comptroller moderated his stance and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ruled that there is no objection to the appointment – Barak gave in. Had Barak stood his ground and refused to approve the appointment, he would have been seen as starting another unnecessary battle with the incumbent chief of staff, a kind of repeat performance of the major conflict between himself and Ashkenazi, which began in the summer of 2009.
The new appointment places Eizenkot in a good starting position for the job of the next chief of staff. But it's still not clear when that race will begin. The government, in a strange and indirect consequence of the Harpaz affair, decided that Gantz's term would last for three years ending in February 2014, although it ostensibly left a narrow opening for extending it by another, fourth year. The final length of the term will depend on the security situation, the wishes of Gantz himself and the decision of the next defense minister (and we still should not eliminate the possibility that it will be Barak, as a "professional" appointment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite the minister's declaration that he will not run in the coming election).
The other candidates for the position of deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi and Maj. Gen. Tal Russo, conducted the last campaign in a gentlemanly manner, with no trace of the murky atmosphere that characterized the previous rounds. If there are no unexpected mishaps later on, Eizenkot will probably succeed Gantz in the end. Two younger potential candidates for chief of staff, chief of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, will wait another four years, for the next round.
The decision about the appointment of Eizenkot – Gantz's recommendation, with Barak's approval – was preceded by a series of discussions with various combinations of the trio, to examine the hard feelings left by the Harpaz affair.
The relationship between Barak and Eizenkot was good in the past; Eizenkot even served as Barak's military secretary when Barak was prime minister from 1999 to 2001. But the revelations of the Harpaz affair created tension between the two. Barak had the impression that Eizenkot was being influenced by Ashkenazi, when Ashkenazi showed him the document forged by Harpaz, who was close to the chief of staff at the time (both Ashkenazi and Eizenkot say that they thought at the time that the document was genuine). Barak was also suspicious of Eizenkot's role in the transfer of the document by his friends, Pardo and Siboni, from the office of Chief of Staff Ashkenazi to Channel 2. The state comptroller accepted Eizenkot's claim that he was unaware of the transfer.
Eizenkot's background includes many years of devoted and successful service – as the commander of the Golani Brigade, the commander of the Judea and Samaria division at the height of the second intifada, head of the Northern Command after the Second Lebanon War. He also had a short and controversial term as the head of the Operations Directorate on the General Staff of Dan Halutz, during the war itself. He is a wise and thoughtful officer, who, at least until he was dragged into the Harpaz mire, enjoyed an unusual consensus of support on the General Staff. Even now, despite the bitter taste that remains, mainly vis-à-vis Maj. Gen.(res.) Yoav Galant, most of the generals believe that he is the most suitable candidate for deputy chief of staff and eventually for chief of staff.