Israeli Defense Minister to Begin Choosing Next Military Chief of Staff

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has at least four strong candidates to replace Gadi Eisenkot, who is slated to retire in January

Israel's new Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot chats with his predecessor Benny Gantz during a visit to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem following his swearing-in ceremony on February 16, 2015
AFP

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman is expected to announce shortly that he is starting the process of interviewing and consulting leading up to the nomination of the army’s next chief of general staff. The term of Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot ends on January 1.

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There are at least four candidates, two of whom had served as deputy chief of staff, a position that is considered an important stepping stone to the top job. The four are the current deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi; his predecessor, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan; the former head of the Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, and former Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir. Alon and Zamir recently completed their tenures. (Alon received a temporary appointment as a “project manager” to deal with the Iranian threat.)

Many within the army have long considered Kochavi to be the front-runner. Alon and Zamir, who are both younger, could also contend for the post of deputy chief of staff. Golan came under sharp criticism for remarks he made at a ceremony on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2016, when he said he could identify “horrifying processes” in Israeli society that reminded him of Europe and Germany before the Holocaust.

The prevailing sentiment in the general staff is that the field is still open and there could still be surprises – perhaps a decision to consider officers who have retired from active service in recent years.

Lieberman on Wednesday also named Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter as his next military secretary. Winter, who now heads the Central Command headquarters, will replace Brig. Gen. Yair Coles. Eisenkot was consulted about the appointment.

Winter had previously been a candidate to command a division or to be the prime minister’s military secretary, but wasn’t named to either post. This generated a lot of criticism from the right, which claimed he was refused a promotion for political reasons. Winter had considered leaving the army, but this new appointment allows him to remain in service and perhaps get command of a division later on, under the next chief of staff.

Associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had suggested thepossibility of extending Eisenkot’s term by a few months (he will actually be retiring several weeks before his four years are up, to allow his successor to start the job on January 1). But Eisenkot himself has said he isn’t interested and apparently this idea has been dropped.

As has been the practice in recent years, Lieberman will hold a round of consultations with former defense ministers and chiefs of staff. He may also consult informally with other retired senior officers. He will also interview each candidate for the position.

Lieberman’s relationship with the two defense ministers before him, Moshe Ya’alon and Ehud Barak, are pretty tense, with both having exchanged insults with Lieberman publicly. One can assume that the consultations will include defense ministers from the more distant past, like Amir Peretz, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Arens, as well as all the most recent chiefs of general staff. The final decision is expected within a few weeks after the consultations and interviews begin, barring any unexpected developments.