Barak Chooses a Chief of Staff

Barak has already chosen the next chief of staff, and his name is Ehud Barak.

Cronyitis is a rare illness for which there is no vaccine or cure. It breaks out every three or four years and affects major generals a mere spitting distance from becoming chief of staff. Sufferers of the condition endure bitter disappointment from which they will never recover, even if they attain ostensibly higher office as prime minister or defense minister. Among the most prominent sufferers are Yigal Allon, Ezer Weizman, Ariel Sharon, Israel Tal, Herzl Shafir, Matan Vilnai and Uzi Dayan. Gabi Ashkenazi, too, fell victim to the illness. Only recently did a miracle occur, and after two years of suffering, he got better.

The cronyitis virus, sometimes also referred to as Barak's disease, after the person who decides whether to elevate a candidate to chief of staff or humiliate him, is going around in the airspace over Safed, Tel Aviv and Be'er Sheva. It's targeting its latest victims - Deputy Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant, GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot and GOC Central Command Avi Mizrahi.

Former Defense Minister Ehud Barak and ex-IDF Chief Gabi Ashkenazi
Archive / Alon Ron

One of them will win out and another two will delay the inevitable for the next time. The victims are expected to experience a feeling of injustice and loss from which they will not recover. That, of course, is their problem, unless the congruence between that problem and the problem of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces is recognized too late to let us choose the right chief of staff for the next three years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who preferred Vilnai over Shaul Mofaz as chief of staff but didn't dare go head-to-head on the matter with defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai, will most likely flinch from a heated dispute over the issue with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. This won't keep the sophisticated candidates for chief of staff from looking for men and women close to Netanyahu as leverage in their lobbying efforts or to head off a veto of their candidacies.

The support attributed to Barak's aides for Galant's candidacy could actually hurt the GOC Southern Command. Barak hates to be told what to do and likes surprising people. The mention of the name of political strategist Eyal Arad as someone pulling the strings for Galant is like waving a red flag in front of Arad's enemies in the Netanyahu family. There are also major generals whose opposition to one of their adversaries is as intense as their support for themselves, so much so to suggest "just not him." In light of Barak's contrarian style, such an approach to him could prove negative, prompting the reaction: "They're not going to scare me."

There are few candidates for chief of staff who have detailed plans for the IDF's future. Barak was such a candidate, as was Dan Halutz - and Mofaz, with Vilnai's plan. A reserve major general, the CEO of a government company, said last week that the political system lacks a board of directors to supervise the appointment and performance of the chief of staff, the army's CEO. The current system involving the cabinet, prime minister and defense minister is too loaded down and weak.

Almost every chief of staff since Ben-Gurion's days served under more than one defense minster. (Mofaz survived four ). But it's the current defense minister who decides. Barak has already chosen the next chief of staff, and his name is Ehud Barak. Ashkenazi's successor will merely be Barak's chief of staff, someone who will not steal the limelight when it comes to praise from soldiers or civilians and will not detract from Barak's last public asset.

It's a vain hope. As much as the candidates are portrayed as humble people who know their place, from the minute the successful candidate takes office, he will have to exercise his position and authority, even vis-a-vis the defense minister who was good enough to appoint him. Who better than the Labor Party's Barak knows this? He owed his promotion to chief of staff to defense minister Moshe Arens, from Likud, but within two weeks he was at loggerheads with Arens on strategic arms control.