Changes in the IDF Top Brass / Moshe Kaplinsky's One-time Chance

The appointment of Major General (res.) Udi Shani as Defense Ministry director general, effective in two weeks, presents Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi with the problem of finding a replacement for Shani's military role as a corps commander in the north. Ashkenazi can choose one of three options: promote a brigadier general, appoint a major general, who would hold the post in addition to his regular role, or appoint a major general from the reserves. Th most intriguing option would be to propose the job to former deputy chief of staff Moshe Kaplinsky.

Shani, head of the Defense Ministry's export agency (SIBAT), took command of his corps after his retirement from the Israel Defense Forces. The commander of the other corps is Major General (res.) Yishai Bar, who retired from his position as president of the Military Court of Appeals and is on sabbatical in New York. He keeps in close touch with the officers in his command through video conferencing. Shani carried out an exercise last fall with his corps and served there for his reserve duty, along with his civilian duty as head of SIBAT. But if there's an emergency he will limit his function to that of director general at the Defense Ministry.

The corps commands were created after the Yom Kippur War to provide a framework for the divisions available to the heads of the three geographic commands - northern, central and southern. The first commanders were reserve major generals Israel Tal and Ariel Sharon, who gave up his Knesset seat for the job. During the first Lebanon war in 1982, the IDF had three corps, one under Yanush Ben-Gal on the eastern front, one under Moshe Bar-Kochba in the Golan Heights, and a third under Dan Shomron as a reserve if the war expanded north of Beirut.

The decision by previous chief of staff Dan Halutz to do away with the corps commands was heavily criticized by senior ground-force officers, and it was quickly reversed after he stepped down. The corps commands have been used as a channel for officers to experience their first commands as major generals. The natural next step was for a more senior position, either in the General Staff or a regional command. Among those who have served in such a function is the current deputy chief of staff, Benny Gantz.

The more intriguing scenario is convincing Kaplinsky, with the assistance of GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot, to partially return to the uniform he left behind two years ago. Kaplinsky and Ashkenazi were candidates to replace Halutz as chief of staff and insisted on retiring even though Ashkenazi said he would be appointed as head of Military Intelligence following a short educational sabbatical.

If Kaplinsky did not give up his dream to become chief of staff, this is the only move that will keep him in the game because it is unlikely that after the case of Ashkenazi, another time will come when a general is brought in from retirement to take over the top job. That would be a vote of no confidence in all generals in uniform.