PM Overturns Galant's Appointment as IDF Chief

For the first time in Israel's history, a chief of staff-designate is disqualified; move comes after attorney general says unable to defend appointment against High Court petition over land grab.

Yoav Galant will not be appointed the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, the first time in Israel's history that a candidate nominated for the position has been forced to withdraw. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak made the announcement last night.

Yoav Galant
Itzik Ben Malki

The decision came after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced he would not be able to defend the appointment before the High Court of Justice.

Galant is accused of improperly seizing public land near his Moshav Amikam home for his private use and says he did not knowingly lie in the deposition he filed with the court, or in a letter he sent to the Israel Lands Administration.

The IDF's deputy chief of staff, Yair Naveh, is expected to serve as acting chief of staff for two months, as of February 14. The decision will be brought before the cabinet for approval tomorrow.

Netanyahu accepted Barak's request not to extend the tenure of outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi in view of the poor relations between the two.

Barak is expected to ask the cabinet to approve a permanent chief of staff, and Netanyahu is expected to be more involved in the process.

Galant said last night that he had been brought before a "kangaroo court" and said he would struggle to prove his innocence.

Netanyahu's intervention yesterday brought to an end a saga that some say should have ended weeks ago. As late as yesterday afternoon Barak still considered sticking by his candidate, and weighing the hiring of a private defense attorney to represent Galant before the High Court after Weinstein told Netanyahu and Barak in the morning that he refused to do so.

Netanyahu and Barak met with Galant last night and told him that in view of Weinstein's announcement, there was no option but to drop their support of his candidacy and look for a new chief of staff.

A statement from the defense minister's bureau said that Netanyahu and Barak expressed their "appreciation to [Galant] as a commander and a fighter, who had been selected to be chief of staff because of his skills and achievements."

In private meetings last night Netanyahu said that "he had to decide to make a cut, twice - to bring an end to the affair of the Galant appointment and to end the impossible relationship between the defense minister and the outgoing chief of staff."

"While I could have brought the matter for another round of deliberations by the Turkel committee [for senior civil service appointments], that would have put things into another cycle, which would have been unnecessary and would not have resulted in Galant's appointment," Netanyahu said.

Yesterday afternoon Barak tried to convince Weinstein to tone down his announcement, both to give the defense minister more room to maneuver in case he decided to keep on fighting for the appointment, and to keep Galant from being attacked further.

Defense sources said that the original wording that Weinstein had planned to use included clear criticism of Galant.

Urgent calls

Barak barely spent any time in the cabinet meeting yesterday and left a number of times in order to hold urgent telephone conversations on the wording of Weinstein's statement. He also spoke to Galant several times.

The wording was toned down before Weinstein announced his position to the High Court, close to 6 P.M. - two hours past the deadline imposed by the court. Weinstein said the findings of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss made it impossible for him to defend Galant's appointment before the High Court.

Weinstein apparently accepted Lindenstrauss' findings that the problem was not merely a series of minor technical or administrative problems, but a long process during which Galant expanded his property; in at least two cases, there were suspicions that he had provided authorities with false information.

Barak's office issued a statement of support for Galant, expressing "sadness and disappointment with the attorney general's decision." Barak added that "Galant is the most suitable person to command the IDF at this time."

However, a little after 8 P.M., Barak's office issued a statement that the appointment had been revoked.

Galant, who until that moment had displayed confidence, asked friends from the navy, who had planned to hold a solidarity rally for him in Shfayim, to cancel the event.

In his first interview since the race for army chief began, which took place before the decision to revoke the appointment, Galant told Channel 2 he would not resign.

"I did not lie, I did not deceive," he said. "I believe in the institutions of the state and in the government of Israel. After 34 years of defending the state, I expect the state to protect me."

"I am not resigning, stopping or leaving," Galant added. "I am willing to be tested in every way. I will prove that I speak the truth."

Then Galant got the call from Netanyahu, who informed him of his final decision.