Barak Acts Quickly to Appoint Yoav Galant as Next IDF Chief

Hours after police clear top army brass of involvement in Galant affair, Defense Minister Ehud Barak surprises cabinet by announcing identity of 20th chief of staff.

GOC Central Command Yoav Galant will be the Israel Defense Forces' next chief of staff, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the cabinet on Sunday. The cabinet is due to approve the appointment next week.

Barak's announcement cut short two weeks of speculation after Channel 2 news reported that a public-relations campaign was underway to ensure Galant's success. The police later concluded that a document in the campaign, the so-called Galant document, was forged, with the media reporting that people in the current chief of staff's office was linked to the forgery and the leak of the news.

Barak's decision came only 60 hours after the police cleared the leaders of the defense establishment, including the IDF top brass, of suspicions in the affair.

Ehud Barak
Tomer Appelbaum

Maj. Gen. Galant's appointment is expected to send shockwaves through the General Staff, with at least three major generals expected to resign.

The current chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, is deliberating whether to complete the remaining six months of his term, sources have told Haaretz. Meanwhile, the police investigation of the Galant document continues.

Barak announced his decision to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and then by phone to Galant, Ashkenazi, the other four candidates for the post, President Shimon Peres and finally the cabinet. The only official voicing reservations about the decision's timing was Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon; the appointment of the IDF's 20th chief of staff is expected to be confirmed by a large majority in the cabinet.

Barak's main explanation for his quick decision was his desire to stop the speculation around the Galant document, but he is also sending a signal he's still in charge of the defense establishment. Barak appears to have expected criticism from the media on the timing and, to a lesser extent, on his choice of candidate. He does not appear to be particularly concerned.

"The people of Israel have been blessed with excellent commanders, led by Chief of Staff Ashkenazi. Maj. Gen. Galant is a brave fighter, a daring commander with varied operational and command experience. He will know how to lead the IDF forward."

Galant, 52, spent much of his career in the naval commandos, eventually commanding the unit. He is married and a father of three, including an officer in an elite unit.

After the naval commandos, Galant led the Gaza Division, was military secretary to prime minister Ariel Sharon and then GOC Southern Command. His resume is rich with combat experience but is rather short on staff posts. He never headed a department in the General Staff, partly because of disagreements between Barak and Ashkenazi on his appointment.

Galant is considered forceful, determined and hawkish on using military force. The new chief of staff's first mission will be improving the atmosphere at the General Staff. This is not going to be easy, and Galant is expected to seek to calm the generals despite any grudges against him.

The affair, Galant said in private conversations last week, was a blood libel, a Dreyfus affair over nothing. Nevertheless, he said the case would end well. Galant has maintained this optimism since last year, when Ashkenazi chose Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz as his deputy despite Barak's preference for Galant. Galant met with Barak for a private conversation and decided not to retire from the IDF.

Now Gantz, who was also a candidate for chief of staff, is expected to retire. Eizenkot, another candidate who hinted he may resign, will be pressured to remain and contest the post once more four years from now. Another major general expected to complete his term soon is the chief of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin.

Ashkenazi called Galant on Sunday, congratulated him and promised to help him take up his new position. But it seems doubtful a brief chat on the phone will dim the deep-seated hostility between the two officers.

Ashkenazi apparently remains convinced that the Galant document is not without foundation, and Galant still suspects that Ashkenazi is behind the leak. Only the naive would believe that in Ashkenazi's office, where not even a plant is moved without permission from the boss, an aide would conceive a media maneuver to undercut Galant's appointment.

In the background of the investigations and intrigues is a much weightier question - the possibility of a future Israeli strike in Iran. The alliance built up by Ashkenazi and Mosad chief Meir Dagan on the moderate end of the Israeli decision-making community has been a bulwark against such an attack.

Dagan is expected leave office in December, shortly before Ashkenazi. If his successor is a hawk on the Iranian question, this will suggest Netanyahu's and Barak's intentions on this issue.