An Appointment Process That Cries Out for Change

Since 2007, the IDF has been stricter about setting criteria for promotion, but the problem is still far from being completely fixed.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss released an important report on Wednesday on senior appointments in the Israel Defense Forces. The report does not deal with personal responsibility, but rather examines the prevalent practice, pinpoints flaws, reveals details and suggests ways to amend the situation.

What sparked the report is a fundamental, twofold flaw in the promotion process for senior IDF officers. For years, the criteria for what training and education higher-level commanders, from battalion heads through division heads, had to have, or how long they had to have served, were unclear. This problem came to a head in the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, when it transpired that an armored division commander, who was an outstanding infantry and naval commando officer, never retrained for the armored corps.

Since the beginning of 2007, the IDF has been stricter about setting criteria for promotion, but has only enforced them partially. Thus while the trend is moving in the right direction, the problem is still far from being completely fixed.

Brigadier generals' appointments are the first part of the problem. And it is from among the brigadier generals that major generals come - which is the second, and more serious, part of the intolerable situation among the IDF's top brass. The power to appoint major generals, like all senior officers, is in the chief of staff's hands, though the defense minister must approve his choices. This means the process flows from the bottom up: The minister can say yes or no, but cannot suggest candidates of his own.

Or at least, that's the theory. In practice, since the minister can stall a long list of appointments to show that the chief of staff does not have the final say, the two sometimes haggle with each other like market peddlers.

This situation cries out for rectification. The chief of staff, as the professional authority, should be able to choose the senior command staff. At the same time, the minister must be able to protect officers from arbitrary whims.

The ugly relations between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, like the comptroller's report, show how crucial it is to make an immediate change in appointment procedures in the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet security service. Appointments must be based on clear criteria and be more transparent. For example, consultations before an appointment should be compulsory. We must not wait until the next scandal or inquiry.