Delusions of Grandeur in the Race to Lead Israel’s Army

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Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant. He's shooting blanks. Credit: Roman Poretzky

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant’s attorney, Avigdor Klagsbald, read David Remnick’s biography of Barack Obama a few years ago, and a poetic quote from Martin Luther King caught his eye: “No lie can live forever the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The attorney chose this excerpt, without citing the source or the publisher of the Hebrew edition, to conclude his client’s objections to the state comptroller’s report on the Harpaz affair, in which a forged document was meant to keep Galant from becoming the next military chief of staff. The reader might get the impression that the speaker was Martin Luther Galant.

Klagsbald isn’t necessarily an Obama fan. In addition to Galant, one of his clients is businessman Sheldon Adelson, who owns casinos in Las Vegas and Macao. The millions that Adelson spent trying to defeat Obama in the last U.S. presidential election and put a Republican in the White House went to waste, but Adelson has maintained his influence over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The fact that Galant and Adelson have the same lawyer doesn’t alone mean this channel will be used to encourage Netanyahu to bring Galant out of the cold and get him appointed chief of staff, an appointment that was annulled in January 2011. There is also no evidence that Adelson cares who will replace Benny Gantz in the role, or thinks that, as a U.S. citizen, he has a right to intervene in such an internal Israeli matter.

But Netanyahu’s ability to make trouble knows no bounds; he’s capable of aspiring to appease his patrons even without a clear nod and with no thought to their citizenship. In 1997, when he palpitated about the failed assassination attempt on Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, he consulted with pollster and strategist Arthur Finkelstein, who didn’t have security clearance.

Galant’s reappearance as a candidate for chief of staff isn’t serious, although the delusions of grandeur conveyed by his self-worshipping remarks are consistent with Israel’s national character.

Galant was an excellent warrior in the Southern Command and a good candidate for further grooming as head of a General Staff branch or as Ground Forces commander en route toward a worthy candidacy for the top post. Serious errors in judgment led to his illusion that the politicians’ support would overcome his professional and personal gaps.

Today, the two obstacles in his path toward turning back the clock – Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon – are impassable, even for the wily former chief of the naval commandos. Even if Netanyahu wanted to, he wouldn’t have enough strength to overwhelm these two guys, and behind Weinstein stands the High Court of Justice.

Since Galant’s main objective isn’t attainable, he’s willing to pursue a secondary objective – blocking the promotion of Deputy Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. Galant’s associates are trying to scare people by arguing that they have enough material to disqualify Eisenkot.

But they don’t have the cards. One card is meant to point out the inconsistencies between Eisenkot’s testimony during the military trial of a reserve battalion commander who lost a soldier during a training exercise, and his support for the battalion commander during a disciplinary procedure. Eisenkot attributes claims like this to a misunderstanding of the difference between legal and disciplinary proceedings.

Gantz, who owes his position to Eisenkot’s humility, has a funny, ungrateful way of showing how grateful he is to the deputy who asked that Gantz be appointed over him. All Gantz has to do is tell Ya’alon that he has no objection to an early decision on the next chief of staff, and a thorough transition can proceed.

The traditional round of interviews with generals, aimed at determining who will leave the army to protest his lack of a promotion, is unnecessary this time around. No one is going to slam the door behind him. The appointment of the next chief of staff is too important to leave in the hands of lawyers, advertising agencies and games of chance.

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