Iran Will Not Appoint Next Israel Air Force Chief

While it's true that Brig.-Gen. Yohanan Locker is Netanyahu's preference, it doesn't mean that he's ultra-hawkish on Iran, nor does it mean Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel is dovish.

So here's what we know to be fairly certain about the contest for the position of the next Israel Air Force commander: That Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz prefers Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers his military secretary, Brig.-Gen. Yohanan Locker; and that Defense Minister Ehud Barak hasn't made up his mind.

We also know that the lack of an agreement among them is delaying the appointment of IAF commander Ido Nehushtan's replacement. What is less known, despite the declarative tones of some press reports, is what either of the two candidates thinks about attacking Iran.

IDF Chief of staff Benny Gantz
Michal Fattal

There will be a final decision soon, as Gantz's remarks to the Knesset State Control Committee on Sunday more or less imposed his choice, Eshel, on the other two sides of the triangle. Speaking to the MKs, Gantz made it clear he considers the choice of IAF commander to be his right, just like the choice of any other senior commander in the IDF, except the Military Intelligence chief and the deputy chief of staff.

But the timing of Gantz's remarks was no coincidence. After coming to an agreement with Barak on nine senior appointments during his first year as army chief, Gantz understood that the decision on appointing the IAF commander was being regarded as a test of his authority. His declaration Sunday has basically committed him to appointing Eshel. He has mentioned his preference for Eshel to too many people to change his mind now.

Gantz's remarks in the Knesset sparked a wave of commentary and gossip in the defense and political establishments. The IDF spokesman, in response, posted on its website two more references Gantz made on the issue at two different military events Monday.

At one, Gantz said, "I want to be clear. I don't think it's proper to appoint an IDF major general who doesn't have the approval of the chief of general staff, who is responsible for commanding the army, for better or worse."

At the second, he said that "no one ever spoke to me or ever pressured me" with regard to appointing the new IAF commander.

Well, it's great that the IDF spokesman has learned to make quick use of the internet to convey messages. It's less clear why the chief of staff felt the need to convey the same message twice in one day.

So what does all this have to do with Iran? For one thing, the Israeli media tends to interpret every upper-echelon dispute in an Iranian context. But the perceptions are not necessarily accurate.

While it's true that Locker, with his family's Irgun background and his close ties with the prime minister, makes him Netanyahu's preference, it doesn't mean that he's ultra-hawkish on Iran, nor does it mean Eshel is dovish. Both are worthy candidates, though most other members of the General Staff prefer Eshel because of his experience.

Not everything begins and ends with Iran.

Read this article in Hebrew.