Picking Our Top Generals / Chaos at the Top

The process for appointing generals in the Israel Defense Forces is a black hole: The system lacks rules and works without documentation and external supervision. This is the main conclusion of the state comptroller's report on senior IDF appointments published yesterday.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone who followed the race in recent months for the post of chief of staff. Yet the comptroller examined the situation from lieutenant colonels up to major generals well before Defense Minister Ehud Barak tapped GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant as the next chief of staff.

The report finds a significant improvement in the appointment process up to the rank of brigadier general. Above that, chaos. In his criticism, the comptroller focuses on the major generals, but it appears there is also a problem in the way the chief of staff is appointed.

At least in that case there exists a semblance of external supervision in the form of a committee headed by retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel, and the deliberations that follow in the cabinet. But in practice the ministers serve as a rubber stamp of the defense minister's plans.

According to the Basic Law on the Army, the chief of staff is authorized to appoint generals, and final approval rests with the defense minister. In practice, the appointment is based on a give-and-take between the two and to a great extent depends on their relationship.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss was too polite to mention the poor relationship between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, which worsened the delays in appointing senior officers. Thus, one of the arguments against making Galant chief of staff was his lack of experience in staff work. But this lack came about largely because Ashkenazi refused a year ago to appoint Galant as deputy.

Israel's security situation, the (excessively ) central role of the IDF in political-strategic decision-making, the near guaranteed status of retired generals in top civilian jobs - all this makes the layer of IDF generals one of the most influential groups in the country. Yet it turns out that it's the appointment of generals that lacks all structure and supervision.

Every board member on a publicly traded company goes through a more complicated and organized process of appointment. The minister and the chief of staff have no criteria for choosing candidates, and there are no rules on how a decision is made or documentation of the discussions.

Transparency? External supervision? Don't make the top brass laugh. According to the report, many top officers, including the chief of staff, believe that the current situation is precisely the way things should remain.