Leaving It All Behind

The ghost of Galant lingers in the air.

The many months of turmoil in the Israel Defense Forces until Benny Gantz became the new chief of staff yesterday was just hinted at in the ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office, where the formal transfer took place. The Galant affair, involving Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, who nearly became chief of staff before the nomination was withdrawn at the last minute, was barely alluded to.

All the usual ceremonies were observed. Speeches were delivered and the transfer of authority was carried out on time. But the bigger picture was visible in the small things.

Yoav Galant
Tomer Appelbaum

First there was the way Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat like a kind of human shield between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, whose relations are acrimonious. Then there were Lt. Gen. (now retired Lt. Gen. ) Ashkenazi's words of thanks to the cabinet without dwelling on Barak. Finally, there were the remarks by the ceremony's moderator, who referred to Gantz's appointment on February 13; that is, at the last minute.

Galant was mentioned once - it was in the speech delivered by Gantz himself. The new chief of staff, always the gentleman, expressed his gratitude to Galant for his "long, devoted, operational and professional service in the IDF to the State of Israel."

It was actually hard not to think about Galant yesterday. Holed up at his home on Moshav Amikam, did Galant watch the ceremonies, which the television broadcasters desperately tried to give a festive touch? Did he mull over just how close he was to his goal before the controversy over his use of land around his house took the job from him?

As usual under such circumstances, the army people's speeches were to the point and expertly written, while the politicians improvised (and twice misspoke the title of their American guest, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen. They called him general instead of admiral ).

Netanyahu recycled his speech from a farewell evening for Ashkenazi on Sunday, but with a lot less charm. Barak warned that things in the Middle East don't stand still, making sure to make minimal eye contact with Ashkenazi.

Barak proclaimed that the chief of staff greatly influences "not only the IDF and its capabilities, but the manner in which the IDF and the State of Israel's power are perceived in the region." The defense minister didn't mention what he himself had just done to undermine the chief of staff's standing.

Ashkenazi mentioned the rehabilitation work the IDF had carried out under his leadership after the Second Lebanon War.

He said that back then, the people in the IDF had to "roll up our sleeves, go back to the basics and fix what needed fixing. We didn't build the IDF, but we rebuilt the faith of conscripts and reserve soldiers in the system - and no less importantly, the Israeli people's faith in its army."

He also commented on his media policy: "I believed that the responsibility placed on my shoulders required me to give my all to the tasks I was called on to perform, speaking less and doing more." Ashkenazi quoted Yitzhak Rabin: "You don't build a country with newspaper headlines. A country is created through small, ordinary, day-to-day acts."

Gantz spoke of possible new challenges, saying that terrorist attacks and war were not beyond the realm of the possible.

"The IDF will adapt and prepare for the challenges of the future, he said, adding dryly, "The path to getting the appointment was not simple, but it seems to me that it would be best to leave that behind."