Despite New IDF Chief Appointment, Army Echelon May Still Be in Crisis

In Benny Gantz, the prime minister and defense minister seek an appointment that will stabilize the IDF top brass.

Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz is set to become the Israel Defense Forces' 20th chief of staff, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided over the weekend.

Barak was due to tell the cabinet of the decision Sunday morning, which remains conditional on the approval of the Turkel committee on senior appointments.

gantz - Nir Kafri - February 6 2011
Nir Kafri

Netanyahu and Barak hope the appointment will be quickly approved by both the committee and cabinet; outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi leaves office a week from tomorrow.

Gantz was not Barak's first choice for the job. But once Netanyahu withdrew the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant for the post, Gantz's appointment was unavoidable. Galant lost out after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced that he would not be able to defend Galant's appointment at the High Court of Justice.

The main task facing Netanyahu and Barak now is to stabilize the military following the turmoil caused by Galant's appointment and its subsequent cancellation.

Barak's insistence not to allow Ashkenazi even a minor extension of his tenure made for a very tight timetable. Galant himself said Friday that he would continue fighting for his appointment. His chances appear to be slim.

Gantz, 52, was deputy chief of staff in his last post in the IDF. He retired in November after Galant was selected over him to take the top job.

At the time, Gantz did not deny that he was retiring with a feeling of frustration. Some of his criticism was aimed at the Harpaz document, a document forged by a Lt. Col. Boaz Harpaz in an effort to foil Galant's appointment. Harpaz is close to Ashkenazi.

In an interview with Haaretz when he retired, Gantz said that the environment in which the Harpaz document was written was unacceptable and wrong. "I said at a forum of the General Staff that there was a need to air out the room and get rid of the bad smell. It is critical, in my view, to understand what happened," he said.

He said the state comptroller's probe must investigate to determine the environment in which the document was written. He said it was not the "thickness of the font," for example, but the infrastructure on which it was based.

After the cancellation of Galant's appointment, Netanyahu and Barak had to decide between Gantz and Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. In Gantz's favor were the many command positions he had held (five including deputy chief of staff ), the speed with which he could assume the role, and the fact that Eizenkot had promised to stay under Gantz but not under Galant.

The current deputy chief of staff, Yair Naveh, will stay on in the IDF. It is likely that Eizenkot will be appointed in the future to be deputy chief of staff, after a hiatus of graduate work.

In their announcement last night, Netanyahu and Barak said they had made their choice amid the need to "do away with the uncertainty about the appointment of the chief of staff and stabilizing the [military]."

Some ministers prefer Eizenkot, but Netanyahu says there is no time for talk, with the need for stability tipping the balance.

Against Eizenkot stood the complications of the Harpaz document - friends of the general helped pass it on to Channel 2 - and what Barak apparently considers to be too great an independent streak on strategic issues.

During the interview with Haaretz, Gantz also hinted that his views on these matters also foiled his appointment in an earlier round.

When the competition began, he had three rules that he held onto courageously, Gantz said. He did not speak to the media, he did not badmouth the other candidates, and he did not change his mind on fundamental issues. He said he told himself from the start that if he was not appointed chief of staff, he would still be able to look himself in the mirror.

Gantz also has a huge advantage: He owes neither Netanyahu nor Barak a thing. This time they are the ones asking him to take the job, and Gantz agreed after serious considerations, which included family members.

The announcement over the appointment will take place today after another strange development over the weekend. On Tuesday night, after Barak and Netanyahu told Galant by phone that they were letting him go, the two decided to work differently: the names of candidates would be sent to the Turkel committee. Then the selected candidate by the prime minister and defense minster would be brought to the cabinet for approval. Meanwhile, they said that Naveh would serve as interim chief of staff for two months.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Barak worked to realize the interim appointment and bring back, through the back door, the Galant appointment. Netanyahu, who had received dozens of calls from ministers and retired generals against the interim-chief-of-staff-maneuver, decided against it on Thursday. It turns out that the only one who was not informed of this was Naveh himself.

On Thursday afternoon, Barak met with Gantz, Eizenkot and Naveh individually. On Friday a final decision was made; it was received with relief in the IDF.

The broad view in the General Staff is that this was the reasonable move under the circumstances and that now it is possible to begin working to restore things to normalcy. However, the damage the matter has caused to the IDF, the morale of the officers and the General Staff, the image of the IDF to the general public, and possibly even to the force's deterrent ability, cannot be brushed aside.

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon told Channel 2 last night that the relationship between Barak and Ashkenazi was undermining state security.

"I don't understand what's going on here. There's a feeling that there has been a loss of control and that there is a war against Ashkenazi," he said.

He rejected statements by Barak last week that Ashkenazi's conduct suffers from "professional problems."

On Galant he said that "I sympathize with him. I nurtured him - an excellent officer and a brave soldier. But in view of some of the incidents that occurred, he did not abide by the law, so he is not worthy of being chief of staff."

Galant gave a number of television interviews, claiming that he had been wronged and that he was being made out to be a public enemy.

Netanyahu rejected Galant's request to address the cabinet today, but the major general was invited to present his case to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The last stage in his battle is now being accompanied by friends, media advisers and high-powered lawyers. It is doubtful whether legal means will produce a different end. After 34 years of a magnificent career as an IDF officer, it should end in a more respectable way.