Halutz Nixes Request to Stay a Few Weeks

The cabinet is expected to be asked to approve Major General (reserves) Gaby Ashkenazi next Sunday as the new Israel Defense Forces chief of staff.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had asked outgoing chief of staff Dan Halutz to postpone his resignation for a few weeks, so that his replacement could be appointed after the Winograd Committee, which is investigating last summer's war in Lebanon, issued its report. But Halutz refused, and Olmert does not want to delay naming a new chief of staff.

The Winograd Committee also refused Olmert's request last week that it disclose any war-related problems it might have found with the main candidates. The committee said it would give no indication of its findings before releasing an interim report in about two months.

Olmert's aides considered various options for postponing the chief of staff's appointment until after the Winograd Committee releases its report, in order to avoid a crisis should the report find fault with the chosen candidate's performance in the war. One was asking Halutz to remain in office another few weeks, but he declined, a government source said.

Another was appointing Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky to the post temporarily until the Winograd report was released. Such an appointment would increase Kaplinsky's chances of getting the post permanently. But opponents of the idea said that it would undermine the IDF's stability at a sensitive period, and that it was important to appoint a permanent chief of staff quickly.

Kaplinsky's supporters say that Ashkenazi's appointment would convey a problematic message to the IDF. "Why bring in a civilian from outside for the first time in the IDF's history? It would give the system a knockout," said one.

Olmert's confidants said that the premier is mulling the chief of staff's appointment. "Olmert is afraid of appointing a chief of staff and then having a problem if the Winograd Committee finds fault with him," explained one.

Olmert will continue his consultations about Halutz's replacement today with former chiefs of staff Moshe Ya'alon, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Dan Shomron. He will only meet Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who backs Ashkenazi, tomorrow or later this week.