More Than a Chief of Staff

This is the problem of the competition for the post of chief of staff: The near absolute focus on the identities of the candidates, without sufficient emphasis on the most important characteristic of the job - team leadership in a team sport.

The process for appointing the 20th IDF chief of staff has become clear with the confrontation between the 14th chief of staff, Ehud Barak, and the 19th, Gabi Ashkenazi, over extending Ashkenazi's tenure. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will play a passive role in the process. He will hear what Barak tells him and nod. Ashkenazi will avoid an unequivocal recommendation that may actually harm the candidate he favors. Barak will decide and inform the person chosen, the runners-up and Ashkenazi, shortly before the official announcement (so it will be hard for information to leak).

The candidates, as is well known, are Deputy Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot and his central and southern command counterparts, Avi Mizrahi and Yoav Gallant. This is a competition with many candidates, like the ones between Dan Shomron, Barak, Amir Drori and Ori Orr in 1987, and between Moshe Ya'alon, Uzi Dayan, Amos Malka and Dan Halutz in 2002. There's a welcome abundance of talent and no clear candidate like Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin in their time.

Mizrahi's chances are very low, even though he impressed Barak with his work as head of the ground forces and GOC Central Command. Gantz is in a better position as deputy chief of staff and coordinator of preparations for a possible crisis with Iran. But he has not yet taken advantage of this position. Around Barak he sounds too much like an echo of Ashkenazi and is deterred from presenting a clear opinion. A similar sort of image undermined Matan Vilnai when he was a candidate versus Shaul Mofaz in 1990.

As far as it's possible to measure opinion at the General Staff, which is something Barak is expected to try to measure, Gantz is liked more than he is respected. As deputy chief of staff he came in at the top at the end of the regular season and ahead in the playoffs, but if he doesn't hurry and pull himself together, convincing us that he should not be passed by, he will quickly lose out to the two other candidates, Gallant and Eizenkot.

Both of them, as military secretaries of prime ministers - Eizenkot for most of the period under Barak and a little bit for Ariel Sharon, and Gallant for Sharon - have an extensive network of contacts, information and influence. Their approaches to the chief of staff post are diametrically opposed. Gallant is decisive and energetic, something like Mordechai Gur, who won over Yitzhak Hofi (whom Eizenkot resembles) in 1974.

When Gur was appointed, Hofi retired and took over the Mossad. Eizenkot appears to have taken a backseat, making do with the deputy chief of staff position to remain a top leader in the IDF during a difficult period and to emerge in three or four years as the unrivaled candidate to become the 21st chief of staff.

In practice, others are doing Eizenkot's work for him. Assuming that Barak has a heart, his heart's desire is Eizenkot. Ashkenazi wanted him as his deputy and therefore also his successor. But when it's time to make an official recommendation, he will adopt the model of air force commanders in talks with the chief of staff and defense minister over succession in the IAF: Halutz in what he said about Eliezer Shkedi, Amos Yadlin and Ido Nehoshtan, and later Shkedi on Nehoshtan and Amir Eshel.

In both cases the outgoing air force commander listed the strong and weak points of the candidates and let the decision-makers do the math. He knew full well that a mistake would not be fateful because whoever lost that time would stay in the General Staff and might be appointed the next time around.

In the air force, where they think long-term, it is already possible - in the Nehoshtan era - to identify the top candidates for succession: brigadier generals Hagai Topolansky and Amikam Norkin. This is precisely the problem of the competition for the post of chief of staff: The near absolute focus on the identities of the candidates, without sufficient emphasis on the most important characteristic of the job - team leadership in a team sport.

Even commanders with the characteristics of great military leaders (and these can be found among the candidates) are not alone in command. They must manage a dozen major generals and a similar number of organizations. It is not less important to build up the next General Staff and the one after it. At the core of these will stand officers like Yair Golan and Aviv Kochavi. The upcoming appointment of the next chief of staff is a short-term matter. The IDF must be developed for the longer term, too.