Barak Signals Thaw in Tensions With Army Chief Ashkenazi

Defense Minister praises chief of staff, signaling end to row over extending Ashkenazi's term to fifth year.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi on Sunday for his professionalism in reforming the army, apparently signalling an easing of tensions between the two.

Tensions between Barak and the army commander had soared following reports that the defense minister opposed extending Ashkenazi's four-year term as Chief of Staff to a fifth year.

Barak's warm words for Ashkenazi came during a Sunday visit to the IDF's professional infantry school. Last Thursday, the pair were photographed in friendly conversation at Barak's birthday party.

Barak told soldiers that Israel was able to face all regional threats due to the strength of the army.

"When we say that the IDF is the strongest army in the region and that the IDF can face any type of surrounding threat, we are talking about you, the fighters," Barak said.

"The whole IDF can see the results of the effort led by the Chief of Staff to incorporate the lessons from Operation Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War."

Barak added: "We are looking for a way to reach peace but we need to understand that this is not North America. There is no room here for the weak and Israel needs to be strong and ready to press the trigger if needed. One hand is extended for peace and one hand is ready [for war]."

Later, Barak visited a high school in Yeruham, where he told students that Israel was strong not just because of the army but also because of its society and economy.

"Everything starts with education," he said. "We need to promise equal opportunities to all young Israelis."

Barak also talked of captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

"When there is no possibility of rescuing a captive by force, we turn to negotiations," he said. "We are required to take every possible and reasonable step to bring Shalit home but not at any price."