Galant Faces Battle With State Comptroller

The saga of the appointment of IDF's 20th chief of staff is nearing its final episode, which will apparently be as stormy as previous ones and Galant has no intention of bowing out.

Yoav Galant is a fighter. That character trait served him well in the naval commandos, and also in his determined, calculated pursuit of the chief of staff's office. Last August, when his path to the coveted post seemed clear, he almost lost it over what later proved to be a forged document describing a smear campaign he allegedly planned to wage against his rivals. Now, having been cleared of those suspicions, he faces the allegation that he illegally seized lands in his hometown of Moshav Amikam has reared its head again. Just three and a half weeks before he is due to replace current Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

The long saga of the appointment of the Israel Defense Forces 20th chief of staff is now nearing its final episode, which will apparently be as stormy as the previous ones. Galant has no intention of fulfilling the hopes of his numerous opponents by bowing out. It's hard to see him leaving the race quietly, as Maj. Gen. Uri Bar-Lev, under different circumstances, left the race to become the next police commissioner two months ago.

Barak, Eizenkot, Gantz - Ariel Hermoni - 2010
Ariel Hermoni

Today, the prosecution will submit its response to the state comptroller's draft report on the lands affair. Next week, Galant will testify before the comptroller.

Galant believes that not-so-anonymous parties are conspiring to keep him from the job. "That's completely obvious," his wife Claudine said in a radio interview yesterday. Galant has asked his friends not to give interviews, but he told them he is convinced of his innocence. He views the lands issue as a dispute between neighbors that has deliberately been blown out of all proportion. He was never even questioned on the issue before, and certainly never convicted of any offense; thus, he sees the effort to use it to disqualify his candidacy now as completely unfounded.

Nevertheless, the attorney general's statement to the High Court of Justice on Monday shuffled the cards. Until then, the prosecution had defended Galant in the petition environmental groups submitted to the court against his appointment. But, on Monday, it said State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss had unearthed new details that require further investigation.

The media speculated yesterday about a false affidavit, but Galant's lawyers said he never submitted any affidavit. At most, there were errors in the response his lawyers submitted on his behalf, or facts open to different interpretations.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed confidence in Galant yesterday and said Galant would take office as planned on February 14. He knows Galant is suffering in part because of his ties with Barak himself. Both Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hope the affair will be cleared up quickly. Neither wants to think about what would happen if the appointment was nixed, or delayed, requiring them to either extend Ashkenazi's term or appoint a temporary replacement.

Ashkenazi doesn't want to stay on. He has already started saying his good-byes and bought tickets for a post-retirement trip abroad. And Barak has no desire to endure even one more day of him. But the alternative is equally problematic. The role of acting chief of staff is not even defined by law - a fact the comptroller discussed in a report published last year. And Galant's designated deputy, Yair Naveh, is being brought back to the army after years out of uniform; until recently, he was running Jerusalem's light rail project. If war erupted in February, would Naveh be ready to run it?

If Galant's appointment is disqualified, Barak has no Plan B. One potential candidate, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, retired two months ago. And while Barak greatly admires Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, the two do not see eye to eye on certain key strategic issues. Ironically, a few dunams on a moshav almost no one ever heard of two weeks ago could wind up dictating Israel's policy toward Iran.

Meanwhile, the entire General Staff is on hold. Key decisions await the input of the next chief of staff, and now, they don't even know for sure who it will be. Dozens of appointments are also awaiting the arrival of a new chief of staff.

But what is happening in the lower ranks is even worse. Officially, the IDF cherishes values like telling the truth; Ashkenazi even ousted two senior officers over fairly minor deviations from this norm. But the Galant affair is just the latest of several ugly incidents over the last year, on top of questions about Barak's conduct toward Ashkenazi and Ashkenazi's conduct in the forged document affair. Taken altogether, these incidents have severely damaged the army's organizational culture.