There Has to Be a Limit

As the saga of Yoav Galant's appointment as chief of staff enters a new phase, which may end with his disqualification, it's important to look at how such a problematic process got as far as it did.

In other times, other nations would have been grateful to senior army officers like Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant. They would have given him a seat in their House of Lords or a suitable noble estate, as a reward, for example, for helping his country avoid the many dozens of casualties that were anticipated during the planning of a campaign like Operation Cast Lead, which he commanded.

But times have changed, and generals no longer receive some sort of Sycamore Ranch for peanuts from a generous supporter who wants to atone for evading the draft. And we expect an experienced commander to realize that circumstances, the enemy and even his forces, have changed. Galant has clearly failed to do this, in a manner that greatly endangers his ability to fill the position to which he aspires, and which he strove for and has almost achieved.

Yoav Galant (Alon Ron)
Alon Ron

"Even if everything works out somehow and he becomes the chief of staff," said one of his officer-friends this week, "he will always enter a room with a transparent monkey on his shoulder. People will ignore the monkey and nobody will dare to talk about it, but it will be there and will prevent Galant from leading." In other words, people will obey his orders, but he will be unable to serve as a personal example, without which it is difficult to convince others to risk their lives.

The heart of the problem is not Galant's behavior in the early stages of the affair of the land transaction in Moshav Amikam. That can be explained by misunderstandings, by local practices and by permits issued to him by the local authorities with rare generosity. Had Galant acted in 2002, in 2005, in 2007 or even in 2009 with cool judgment and hastened to confess and offer to leave - the affair would have sunk into oblivion. But he lacked such sobriety, or a tough legal adviser, or simply a good friend, to save him from his own mistakes.

Until now, judges who have received appeals to do so have rarely rejected senior military appointments. Two important points that they customarily take into account are the nature of the shortcoming attributed to the officer - whether it was professional (i.e., regarding a mishap in his unit ) as opposed to personal - and how much time has passed. Indeed, a clear-cut, military-related incident that happened years before usually increased the chances that a promotion would receive the approval of the High Court of Justice.

In Galant's case, the matter is strictly personal and involves his private property. Its only connection to his military functioning is the dubious mobilization of the General Staff unit for guarding senior officers, to help justify the paving of an "escape route" on Galant's property. This aspect of the case threatens to entangle the former commander of the unit, Col. Arik Elazar - who at the time was a lieutenant colonel, and also served as the commander of the Oketz canine combat unit - and who is now the commander of the army's airborne and special training center. Not only is the matter personal, but the suggested half-baked solution of the matter about two years ago concerning property issues was not even implemented, in a way that surprised the High Court justices this month. So there's nothing to discuss, at least, in terms of the time that has passed.

Worst of all, it may be that the High Court, during the various incarnations of the affair, received false declarations. If so, mere cancelation of the appointment will be insufficient: The attorney general or the military advocate general will be forced to order a criminal investigation. False testimony in court, whether delivered orally or in a written declaration, is also a transgression of the Military Judgment Law.

Two of the three justices on the High Court panel that is hearing the appeal against Galant's appointment, Esther Hayut and Uzi Vogelman, happen to be serious experts on real estate issues. It's hard to sell them tall tales. And justices don't like it when they and their colleagues are deceived. The court has no independent tools for gathering data. It is fed by what is given to it and it relies on the State Prosecutor's Office. Shamefully, it turned out that that office did not properly check the data it gave the High Court two years ago. Now both systems that have to decide on Galant's fate, the prosecution and the judiciary, are furious.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who has been involved not only in the brouhaha surrounding the appointment of the chief of staff, but also the furor concerning the naming of the new police commissioner, has already proven on these matters that for him atzma'ut (independence ) is not only the name of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's new party. And Justice Hayut, the next in line to be president of the Supreme Court, does not belong to the group of judges who melt at the sight of generals' uniforms. The woman who, back during her compulsory military service, was called Esti Avni and served in the Central Command entertainment troupe, during the rather capricious period in which Rehavam Ze'evi was head of the command, cannot be a blind worshiper of generals.


Appointments sometimes tell us as much about those doing the naming as those receiving the nod. Yitzhak Mordechai was perhaps searching for himself in Shaul Mofaz - as was Ariel Sharon in Ehud Barak in the early 1980s and two decades later in Dan Halutz.

For his part, Barak wanted to appoint Galant, a commando officer after his own heart: aggressive, belligerent, suspicious, political, tricky. And Barak invested over a year in setting up his bid to appoint Galant chief of staff. The cabinet (with the exception of Minister Michael Eitan ) proved to be pushovers. Former Justice Jacob Turkel and his colleagues Shmuel Hollander, Moshe Nissim and Gila Finkelstein made fools of themselves. But above all, the failure is Barak's: Everything that has happened since his announcement of his candidate for chief of staff should have occurred beforehand, as a condition for the selection. Along came the petitioners, together with Weinstein, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and the High Court, who taught him that he does not have the last word.

Now, when the leap from Galant's temporary room in the Defense Ministry to the adjacent General Staff building looks anywhere from difficult to impassable, we have to keep an eye on those responsible for the failure, so that they don't get another chance at lawlessness. Despite the importance surrounding the identity of the next chief of staff - whether it's Gadi Eizenkot, Benny Gantz, Shlomo Yanai or another general who can stabilize the crisis-ridden Israel Defense Forces - it is important to make sure the decision is not made on a whim.

With the exception of the recommendation to launch a war, there is no more important decision by an Israeli defense minister than the appointment of a chief of staff - and there is also a connection between the two. Galant rose with Barak and, if Galant falls, Barak should rightfully fall with him. Even if it is inevitable that organizations that exercise power give rise to aggressive people and place them at their helm, there has to be a limit.

Barak is willing to dismantle the army, like his party, only in order to prove that he is the one who decides, preferably in secret and by surprise. He has failed both the "test of process" and the "test of results." For such a failure, a defense minister has to pay with his seat, together with the person with the ultimate responsibility, the prime minister who blindly followed him. After all, the most moral army in the world should be headed by the most moral leaders.