The three appointments that Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz made Monday involve positions that are more important than the epaulets placed on the newly minted army spokesman, chief education officer and head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank.
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Much of the military activity these days has fundamental consequences in the realms of politics, the media and public affairs, which is why the army spokesman is one of the officers closest to the chief of staff. This position went to Moti Almoz. The new chief education officer, Avner Paz-Tzuk, will have to rehabilitate a branch of the service that has taken blow after blow in the struggle with the military rabbinate. And the next head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank, David Menachem, will have to maintain the relationship with the Palestinian security forces, which is becoming increasingly undermined by the diplomatic stalemate and the Palestinian Authority’s dire economic straits.
The series of appointments actually began with one that was not mentioned Monday: the expected promotion of the current army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai to the post of coordinator of government activities in the territories, replacing Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Gantz decided on the appointment, which will go into effect in the fall. That necessitated the appointment of a new army spokesman relatively quickly. Mordechai, who had a successful term as army spokesman, is apparently the person who connected his close friend Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz with Gantz. Almoz had replaced Mordechai in 2010, as head of the Civil Administration.
It is easy to understand why Gantz wants Almoz close to him, just as it is important for Gantz to continue to promote Mordechai. After many years of spokesmen with non-combat backgrounds, the chief of staff is enamored with the idea of a spokesman who came up through combat units. Almoz is a rough-and-ready Engineering Corps officer, a real bulldozer, whose purposely gruff exterior (born in the farming community of Migdal near Lake Kinneret, he usually refers to himself as a “peasant”) covers a sharp mind. Almoz is also very well liked by his colleagues in the field units. They have reason to believe that like Mordechai, Almoz does not see himself as the spokesman for the chief of staff, but rather the representative to the media of commanders and soldiers.
And yet, choosing Almoz as army spokesman is surprising – and it must be hoped that Gantz knows what he is doing in this gamble. Almoz has never concealed the fact that he does not like contact with the media. In his last post, he intentionally stayed away from almost every encounter with journalists. It is difficult to see how he will now undergo a stark personality change and accept a position that requires him to constantly stroke the ego of television presenters, listen patiently to the musings of an internet news site journalist or respond politely to the regular pressures that the editors of Yedioth Ahronoth will bring to bear as part of their ongoing holy war against Israel Hayom. Some of Almoz’s old friends would not be surprised to hear that he quickly begins hanging up on a few people.
Almoz’s successor in the Civil Administration is Brig. Gen. David Menachem, chief of staff of the Central Command. Menachem, who comes from the Givati Brigade, served for quite a long time in the territories – among other posts as commander of a logistical brigade in the West Bank at the beginning of the second intifada, and as commander of the Kfir infantry brigade. Like Almoz, he is a fair man with a sober view of the conflict with the Palestinians. (When Menachem recently headed an IDF delegation to Auschwitz concentration camp he took the delegation’s members, before visiting the camp, to see “The Gatekeepers,” in which former heads of the Shin Bet security service were interviewed about the roles they play in maintaining the occupation of the territories.) In contrast, he has no intelligence background or long-term experience working with the Palestinians.
If the appointments of Almoz and Menachem seem a little like decisions of a taskmaster, his decision on the appointment of the new chief education officer is rather strange. The current chief, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister, will break an IDF record – more than six years at the same post. That seems like unusual punishment: there are people who spent less time in Siberia. Shermeister, who came from an aerial monitoring unit, was appointed to the position back in the days of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz (remember?).
A replacement was chosen for him two and a half years ago, Col. Erez Weiner, aide and confidant to former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. However, Gantz froze and finally rescinded the appointment because of Weiner’s involvement in the Harpaz forged document affair, into which the military police has recently launched a renewed investigation.
A few months ago, Gantz finally decided to release Shermeister from his cell and to appoint Almoz as his replacement. However, that appointment did not go into effect, and now Almoz has been appointed army spokesman. Shermeister will be succeeded as chief education officer by Col. Avner Paz-Tzuk, currently head of the IDF’s cyber division in Military Intelligence. Paz-Tzuk, an engineer who was a member of the elite Matkal unit, has fulfilled with distinction several posts in the MI’s technology network. What does that have to do with a job that mainly involves contact with combat soldiers in the field? Only Gantz knows.
The Education Corps has been defeated repeatedly in recent years by the military rabbinate not only because of the demographic change – there are many more religious officers in command of combat units – but also because of the determination of the chief military rabbis and because the two most recent IDF chief rabbis, an infantry officer and a helicopter pilot, were received in field units as “one of our own,” who must be taken seriously.
On the other hand, cynics might say that the chief of staff has been persuaded that the methods of a cyber warrior are needed to stop the trends of the takeover of the military rabbinate.