Benny Gantz to Take Over as IDF Chief Today After Tense Cabinet Meeting Okays Appointment

Gantz will be promoted this morning to lieutenant general at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, followed by a military ceremony at the Kirya defense compound in Tel Aviv.

The cabinet voted unanimously yesterday to appoint Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz the Israel Defense Forces' next chief of staff, but Minister Michael Eitan clashed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak over the process that won Gantz the job.

Gantz will be promoted this morning to lieutenant general at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, followed by a military ceremony at the Kirya defense compound in Tel Aviv.

Benny Gantz - Nir Keidar - Feb. 13, 2011
Nir Keidar

The storm at the cabinet meeting began when Improvement of Government Services Minister Eitan, who had led the fight against the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as chief of staff, asked for the floor. He said the rescinding of the appointment had been appropriate after Galant's improper use of public land came to light.

Netanyahu then said to Eitan: "This isn't a discussion about Galant, we're talking about Gantz's appointment." Eitan, who seemed to feel under attack, quickly responded: "There is an obligation to fight corruption."

Netanyahu continued to try to silence Eitan, finally saying: "Enough. If you have an opinion about the Gantz appointment, say it."

At this point, Eitan said: "I welcome the Gantz appointment. He made a mistake like anyone can," referring to Gantz's own infractions regarding the use of public land. "But with Galant it's a matter of a person who was given several warnings but persisted in his actions, so he was taken out of the game. In the second case, we're giving the green light."

Netanyahu said: "I don't accept terms like mafioso, this is not the place."

Sources at the meeting said that at that point Eitan lost his cool and said: "There is a desire to uproot corruption. We must not ignore it. What I said was that Galant acted like a mafioso. The cabinet must convey a message that along with its appreciation for his work in the military, we must fight corruption and not allow officials to use their position to harm the public interest."

Netanyahu then told Eitan: "One of the things you have not been blessed with is wisdom with words. Control yourself."

Barak then said: "I don't accept Miki's heated tone," referring to Eitan. "They suit statements you go to the police with."

According to sources at the meeting, Eitan then lashed out at Barak. "You're commenting on style to me? You're the man with the ugliest style in Israel," he said.

The shouted exchanges went on for 20 minutes.

After the meeting, Eitan told Haaretz that at no point in the discussion did he lose his cool. He said describing the meeting that way was tendentious.

The IDF's official farewell to outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi took place last night in the presence of government officials and hundreds of senior officers past and present.

At the farewell event for Ashkenazi at Tel Aviv University, short films were shown showing the major general at various stages of his nearly four decades in uniform. IDF values were mentioned during the films such as professionalism, comradeship and a sense of mission.

It almost seemed as if the script to the presentation was a response to Barak, who was present. Barak said less than two weeks ago that he would not extend Ashkenazi's term because his values were flawed.

A number of senior officers addressed the audience, hardly mentioning Barak, who appeared in none of the hundreds of pictures shown in the presentation on Ashkenazi.

Among the speakers were Miriam Peretz, whose two sons were killed while serving as officers in the Golani Brigade and who represented bereaved families. Sa'ar Ziv, a young man from Sderot who is about to begin his military service, also spoke. Also, guest of honor Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he and Ashkenazi were great friends, just as the United States and Israel were great friends.

Barak said from the rostrum that the evening was "one of farewell and not soul-searching." As he spoke, the main monitor focused on Ashkenazi, who wore a thin-lipped smile.

Like Barak, Netanyahu's remarks focused on Ashkenazi's soldiering skills.

Lt. Col. (res. ) Meir Kraus, who served with Ashkenazi as a company commander in the Golani Brigade, said of the outgoing IDF chief: "On your watch we knew the power of restraint." He called on Ashkenazi to speak up in the future to advance peace in the region.