Peretz Appoints Halutz Rival as Defense Min. Director-general

Defense Minister Amir Peretz decided yesterday to appoint Maj. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi as Director-General of his ministry. The appointment will take effect within several days, pending cabinet approval. The outgoing officeholder, Kobi Toren, was appointed less than a year ago by Shaul Mofaz.

Peretz also decided to instruct the military establishment to divert resources from other activities to focus on finding operational and technological solutions to the Katyusha and Qassam rockets being used by Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror organizations, as well as to the tunnels being dug in the Gaza Strip and perhaps in other areas too.

The defense minister believes that without proven solutions to these problems, and particularly to the missiles, the government will have a hard time persuading the public to support the evacuation of additional settlements in the West Bank for fear that the areas will become missile launch sites.

Peretz is planning to convene his first emergency session on these issues, with experts from the Israel Defense Forces, his ministry and other organizations. The Nautilus laser missile interception system, development of which has been suspended, will be tested in Israel with American funding with an eye to renewing the project if the test succeeds.

Ashkenazi, 52, took part in the 1973 War, the Entebbe rescue, the Litani operation and the Lebanon War. He has been Commander of the Golani Brigade, head of the Operations Branch and head of the Northern Command during the final years of the IDF's presence in Lebanon. He was in charge of the withdrawal from Lebanon, which took place with no casualties, and of establishing the new line along the border.

In 2002-04, Ashkenazi was deputy chief of staff under Moshe Ya'alon, and competed against Dan Halutz to succeed him. Although there is no need to consult with the chief of staff when appointing the director-general of the Defense Ministry, Peretz did consider the possible affect of Ashkenazi's return to a senior military position on his own relationship with Halutz. He decided that the competition between Ashkenazi and Halutz, both of whom grew up on Moshav Hagor, would not keep them from working together.

Other candidates for the director general position included Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Harel, head of the Planning Directorate, and former coordinator in the territories Maj. Gen (res.) Danny Rothschild.