Barak, Gantz Near Deal on Military Advocate General

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz have disagreed over next military advocate general since Gantz took up his position in February.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz seem ready to compromise over the appointment of the next military advocate general, after having been locked in dispute over the matter for the past three months.

Since Gantz took up his post in February, he and Barak have made major efforts to maintain a functional relationship, especially considering the fraught relations between Barak and Gantz's predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi, toward the end of the latter's term.

Ehud Barak, Benny Gantz - Emil Salman - July 2011
Emil Salman

But behind the scenes, disagreement has persisted over the identity of the next military advocate general. Maj. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, who has held the post for seven years, wants to retire, and Gantz, at Mendelblit's recommendation, wants to appoint the latter's deputy, Col. Sharon Afek.

Barak, however, wants Col. Avi Levy, currently president of the special military court that hears cases warranting the death penalty and those involving senior officers. Barak reportedly consulted former senior officials in the military justice system, including Maj. Gen (res ). Ben-Zion Farhi, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Ilan Schiff, Brig. Gen. (res. ) Amnon Straschnov and Brig. Gen. (res. ) Uri Shoham, and all of them apparently backed Levy.

Barak's bureau also considered appointing an external committee headed by a senior retired legal official. On the short list for committee chairman were former Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar and attorney Joseph Ciechanover, who recently served as Israel's representative on the UN committee investigating the botched raid on last year's flotilla to the Gaza Strip.

But Gantz opposed the establishment of such a committee, arguing that it would contravene the law, which states that the chief of staff recommends the candidate for military advocate general and the defense minister makes the appointment.

According to the compromise reached over the past few days, the appointee will be chosen from among a group of candidates considered by the chief of staff, including Afek. The list will also apparently include Col. (res. ) Danny Efroni, a former deputy military advocate general, and Col. Liron Liebman, who heads the army's international law department. The final decision is to be made in the coming weeks.

Sources in the defense establishment said that Barak will accept Gantz's recommendation, and Gantz, in turn, will not fight Barak over the appointment of the chief of staff's financial adviser, who also serves as the Defense Ministry's budget director. The current adviser, Brig. Gen. Maharan Prosenfer, is to retire soon, and Barak reportedly wants to appoint someone from outside the defense establishment to the post. Yedioth Ahronoth's business supplement, Calcalist, reported this week that Barak's candidate is a private-sector accountant, Reem Aminoach.

In response to a question about the appointment of the next military advocate general, the defense minister's bureau told Haaretz that "everything will be done in a mutually agreed and appropriate manner."

Barak and Gantz are also slated to decide soon on several other appointments to the IDF General Staff. The first group will include a new navy chief to replace Adm. Eliezer Marom, a new commander of the military colleges to replace Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen, a new head of C4I to replace Maj. Gen. Ami Shafran, and a new commander of the General Staff Corps to replace Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yishai Bar.

The next round of appointments will include a new chief of the Israel Air Force, a new GOC Central Command, new heads for the technological and logistics directorate and the plans and policy directorate, and possibly also a new commander of the Northern Corps.

This means that by a year after Gantz's appointment, almost half the General Staff will consist of new appointees.