Netanyahu Weighs Candidacy of Yoav Galant as New IDF Chief

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Yoav Galant, December 2012.Credit: Nir Kafri

Last Friday, on the same television channel that the witch hunt against Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant began four years ago, Galant declared that he would be vying to become the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. Just after the anchors on Channel 2’s Friday evening news magazine offered an apology of sorts for reporting on the document meant to smear Galant (which turned out to be a forgery), he said, “There is a government in Israel. If it calls me to the flag, I will act.” So said the man who almost became chief of staff last time around.

It seems that his answer was carefully worded. The first attempt to thwart him, in August 2010 – by means of the leaked document that became known as the “Harpaz document” – was unsuccessful. But six months later, the discovery of a false declaration submitted to the court in the matter of Galant’s house in Amikam disqualified him, just a week before he was due to enter office in February 2011; Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was appointed instead.

But a comeback is in the air, due to the coincidental confluence of three processes: the end of the Gaza war; the police recommendation to indict former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and others over the document; and the upcoming appointment of a new chief of staff. This time, too, it seems the choice is between Galant and Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and the outcome is hard to predict.

It’s no secret that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon wants Eisenkot. So does Gantz. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has no record for interfering in the professional appointments of his senior ministers in their own realms. Will he act differently this time?

When Netanyahu testified before the state comptroller on the Harpaz affair, he said that he believed the prime minister should be more involved in the appointment of the chief of staff. Political sources say that in recent months he has spoken to people about their possible appointment to the office of chief of staff, and does not rule out the possibility that Galant will be next to hold that office.

One reason Netanyahu is interested in Galant as chief of staff has to do with the recent war in Gaza. Although publicly Netanyahu was careful to praise the functioning of the IDF General Staff and the army in the fighting, his remarks probably do not reflect his thinking on the matter. Netanyahu is well aware of the displeasure on the right flank of his coalition over the IDF’s performance in the war. The inner cabinet was critical of the General Staff, and some therefore think that Eisenkot as chief of staff would be more of Gantz’s style, when a shake-up is required.

While not directly criticizing the government or the army in his frequent television appearances during the operation, Galant presented himself as an alternative, as commander of an operation considered more successful in the Gaza Strip – Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09.

As for Eizenkot, the state comptroller’s report found a minor fault in his conduct in the Harpaz affair: the fact that he showed the document to other generals and to some of his friends, although Ashkenazi had asked him not to.

About a year ago, Channel 1 reported on what was described as a major gap between his two testimonies to the police in August 2010. The first time, Eizenkot did not mention that he had shown the document to his friends – Institute for National Security Studies senior research fellow Gabi Siboni, and then-senior IDF General Staff adviser (now Mossad chief) Tamir Pardo. Siboni leaked the document to Channel 2 (the three believed the document was real). The police now recommend indicting Siboni for coordinating his testimony with the chief of staff’s aide, Col. (res.) Erez Weiner.

Two years ago, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ruled that there was no obstacle to appointing Eisenkot as deputy chief of staff, but that doesn’t mean the affair is behind him. Whatever the decision, High Court petitions can be expected – if Ashkenazi is not tried, if Eisenkot is appointed or if Galant is appointed – due to the false declaration.

Ya’alon will apparently begin interviewing the candidates in late October. At the moment, his plan is to invite Eisenkot and former deputy chief of staff Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, whose chances are considered slim. Without major outside pressure, it is hard to see Ya’alon withdrawing his support for Eisenkot and his objection to Galant.

There has been some discussion of asking Gantz to stay on another year until things calm down, but he is unlikely to do so.

In any case, it seems that until February 15, 2015, when the new chief of staff is set to take office, nothing is final. And here’s some advice for television news editors: renew your file of photos of GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Yair Golan.

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