Plotting the Race for IDF Chief

Up until two months ago, the picture of the race for the highest post in the Israel Defense Forces was fairly clear.

Yoav Galant is a resolute, trained and ambitious officer seeking to become the IDF Chief of Staff. Whatever flaws we might find thanks to the kind assistance of his opponent, a fool he is not. The likelihood he engaged friends from the public relations world to produce a strategy for his image and candidacy isn't particularly high.

Up until two months ago, the picture of the race for the highest post in the Israel Defense Forces was fairly clear. There was the obvious favorite, Galant, with a considerable lead over his main competitors - Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot.

Yoav Galant
Tomer Appelbaum

To win, all Galant had to do was keep the race quiet, secure Defense Minister Ehud Barak's already apparent support and get prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to unreservedly confirm Barak's decision. Galant had no interest in generating any crisis, certainly not between Barak and outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

If any scandal around the race for the post is bad for Galant, it becomes lethal when Eyal Arad's name is mentioned. Arad, who used to be Netanyahu's closely trusted spokesman at the UN embassy and the foreign ministry, became an object of loathing in the mid-1990s. To win Netanyahu's ire, Arad tirelessly worked to have another win the premiership: He was spokesman for the Center Party of Yitzhak Mordechai, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and Dan Meridor, who ran against the two main contenders - Netanyahu and Barak.

And as if all that wasn't enough, a few years later Arad joined forces with Netanyahu's Likud rival, Ariel Sharon, and from there moved on to Kadima - another rival party for the two men deciding the next chief of staff: Barak and Netanyahu.

Galant himself, meanwhile, served as Sharon's military adviser for over three years, offering him a rare opportunity to study in the high academy of intrigue.

Galant can't possible have any interest in reminding the house of Netanyahu that he'd been schooled on uncle Arik's farm, and that he retains a relationship with men who'd once worked for Sharon along with Netanyahu's rival and opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

The recent release of the document implicating Arad's involvement in Galant's bid got Netanyahu curious, and even if it's soon proven that Galant was the victim rather than perpetrator, it seems the damage is done. The affair may well throw Galant to third place, behind Gantz and Eizenkot.

Most of the blame now rests with the method of appointment - which easily seduces officers to plot, scheme and intrigue.

The state comptroller is preparing a worrying report on the tangled road to appointing staff generals, a process involving the Chief of Staff, the defense minister, and, in some cases, the prime minister.

The report concludes, in a nutshell, that there are neither regulations nor principles involved, with everyone simply doing as they see fit. The same appears to apply all the more to the appointment of the chief of staff.