New IDF Chief Hits Back at Allegations of Land Grab

Incoming IDF chief Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant faces questions over his alleged use of public lands adjacent to his home at Moshav Amikam; he is expected to tell state comptroller he did not lie to authorities about issue.

Lawyers for Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, tapped as the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, are expected to submit their response on Thursday to questions posed by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss regarding the controversy surrounding Galant's alleged use of public lands adjacent to his home at Moshav Amikam.

Galant will attend a hearing on the matter next week at the state comptroller's office, where he is expected to say that he did not lie to government authorities about the land issue.

Galant's version of events is that it is possible that there were factual errors in some of his responses, whereas with respect to other assertions, he is in disagreement with Lindenstrauss.

On Monday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein informed the High Court of Justice that the comptroller had recently come into possession of new evidence on the issue. Weinstein asked that a hearing on a petition filed by the Green Movement against Galant be deferred until February 1. On Wednesday, the high court turned down the Green Movement's request for an interim injunction until facts are clarified against Galant's appointment as chief of staff.

Galant's responses to a draft report by the comptroller on the Amikam land controversy will apparently focus on the following issues: claims regarding misleading statements he allegedly made, the possibility that Israel Land Administration employees were involved in improperly transferring land to him, and a statement by the commander of the personal security unit of the General Staff saying that Galant needed the path that he used without approval as an escape route in the event of an attempted attack. The unit's former commander, Col. Arik Elazar, provided testimony on the matter to the comptroller.

Galant said he is convinced no serious evidence will surface against him and that his appointment as chief of staff will proceed as planned.

If the comptroller's report does contain severe criticism of the army chief designate's conduct in the case, Galant's appointment may be the subject of additional discussion by the committee that screens senior appointments or even by the cabinet itself.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday said that he had full confidence in Galant, adding that Galant would take office as IDF chief of staff on schedule on February 14. He added that he expected the judicial system would conclude its investigation as quickly as possible.

Galant's wife, Claudine, said in a radio interview on Wednesday that she was convinced the truth would come out, saying that her husband received only what was due him by law "and even less than that." Amikam resident Pnina Dahan, a close friend of the family's, said Yoav Galant was the victim of a "character assassination."

Friends of Galant said a small group of the moshav's residents who are at odds with the major general have fed misleading information to the state comptroller, and that his innocence will be proven at the hearing with Lindenstrauss.

The current IDF chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, is not interested in remaining beyond the February 14 date on which Galant has been scheduled to take over, if an investigation of the land controversy requires a delay in his taking office. On the other hand, there are legal obstacles to appointing an acting chief of staff if there is an intervening period between Ashkenazi's departure and Galant's taking office.

At a farewell visit on Wednesday with the Israel Navy, Ashkenazi said he is departing "with a sense that there is someone to depend upon." He refused to comment on the land affair.

The Turkel committee on senior government appointments issued a statement on Wednesday in reaction to the criticism that it had not delved into the land issue when it approved Galant's appointment. The statement said the panel is not an investigative committee and does not have the necessary tools to conduct an investigation. "The committee is authorized to give its opinion only based on the material submitted to it," the statement said.