IDF Appointment Row Could Cost Israel One of Its Top Officers

The choice of Benny Gantz as deputy chief of staff is seen as a compromise among members of IDF top brass.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The Israel Defense Forces' next deputy chief of staff will be Benny Gantz, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said on Friday - a move that might make another top general leave.

GOC Southern Command Yoav Gallant, a former candidate, is reportedly "contemplating his career in the IDF." The selection of Maj. Gen. Gantz is seen as a compromise between Barak and Ashkenazi. Gantz is now in a good position to become Israel's next chief of staff.

Ashkenazi sought to appoint Gadi Eizenkot, GOC Northern Command, to the deputy post, while Barak preferred Gallant. The defense minister argued that appointing Gallant would provide three solid candidates to replace Ashkenazi as chief of staff in 18 months. The two remaining candidates would be Eizenkot and Gantz.

Gallant has said he would retire if he is not appointed deputy chief of staff. Barak must now sway Gallant from retiring, perhaps by convincing him to take an academic sabbatical or another senior post such as deputy head of the Mossad or Shin Bet security services.

Barak believed that Gallant needed General Staff experience to be considered an equal candidate for the IDF's second most senior post. Eizenkot and Gantz - who has served as IDF attache in Washington for the last two years - have already held General Staff posts.

Ashkenazi did not want Gallant as his deputy; the two top generals have a poor working relationship.

The chief of staff suggested that retiring deputy chief Dan Harel stay on as his number two until the end of Ashkenazi's term, though Barak is reportedly not happy with that option.

The row between the defense minister and the officers worsened when news of it was leaked to the media. After his return a week ago from one of his many trips abroad, Barak read newspaper reports about the "battle" between his own candidate and Ashkenazi's.

This delayed the decision further. Senior defense sources said Barak could not allow himself to appear as though he had buckled to Ashkenazi's pressure. Tensions flared between the two men, and the IDF and media harshly criticized the delay.

A departure by Gallant is likely to be noisy. The GOC Southern Command, who was in charge of Israel's offensive in Gaza at the beginning of the year, has reportedly grown embittered about the conduct of his ranking officers. If he decides to open his mouth, he is likely to be very critical of a number of senior defense officials.

Gallant, a former aide to prime minister Ariel Sharon, is probably contemplating whether to take the ex-premier's advice to young politicians: Always stay on the Ferris wheel.

The reshuffle will also see Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, now finishing a successful stint as the General Staff's operations chief, climbing up the ranks to become a major general. His early promotion could come as a prelude to his nomination as head of Military Intelligence after Amos Yadlin leaves this post.

As for Eizenkot, he voiced no criticism about the fact that he had been passed over. He has said that the northern front is complicated enough to justify him staying on for a fourth year at Northern Command headquarters.

Before his Washington posting, Gantz served as the commander of the IDF Ground Forces, as the chief of Northern Command and as a reserves commander. He was promoted to the rank of major general in 2001.

Gantz was born in Kfar Ahim near Ashdod in 1959 and served as the last commander of the Lebanon Liaison Unit during the May 2000 withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Gantz was later named commander of IDF forces in the West Bank, days before the outbreak of the second intifada.

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