The Kaplinsky Appointment / Halutz's Tough Call

The appointment of Major General Moshe Kaplinsky as "coordinator of IDF efforts by land, sea and air in the Lebanon arena," as the envoy of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, is the most dramatic personal move in the campaign to date. Despite Halutz's statement, that he "has complete faith in the IDF line of command in general and of the Northern Command in particular, headed by Major General Udi Adam," Kaplinsky's appointment must be interpreted as a show of no-confidence in a frontline commander during wartime. This is a harsh blow to Major General Adam, and a step the chief of staff had sought to avoid, among other reasons so as not to harm troop morale and grant Hezbollah a boost, but he was ultimately forced to do so to give another chance to succeed.

Halutz's announcement reflects an effort to preserve Adam's professional dignity, not just by means of the non-military title "coordinator," the likes of which can be found in the defense establishment only in the coordinator of operations in the territories, but also by making it unique to "the Lebanon arena." This ostensibly implies that if the tension on both sides of the Israeli-Syrian border flares into another campaign, commanding authority for the Golan arena would remain in Adam's hands; but that is only ostensibly. For every practical purpose, Adam has been removed from his post and remains at Northern Command headquarters in Safed as Kaplinsky's assistant. Halutz and Kaplinsky spent many hours at Northern Command yesterday and Monday, meeting with Adam.

According to military sources, Halutz's decision was made with the encouragement of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who viewed the Northern Command as a bottleneck in the waging of the campaign. Halutz initially wanted to dispatch to the north, as his representative, Ground Forces Commander Benny Gantz, Adam's predecessor as GOC Northern Command until a year ago, but the General Staff felt that appointing Gantz might lead Adam to resign. Kaplinsky is the only major general senior to Adam and the other command GOCs, heads of branches and forces, whereas Gantz's standing is equal to Adam's and the significance of dispatching him to the North could not be obfuscated. Until the outbreak of this campaign, Halutz and his deputy, Kaplinsky, were tight, but in recent weeks their relationship cooled, whereas Halutz and Gantz grew closer. Kaplinsky and Gantz are the main contenders to become the next chief of staff.

During the first weeks of the campaign Halutz repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the slow rate at which Northern Command forces were moving, in contrast to his satisfaction with the air force's handling of its part in the operational plans. Kaplinsky is considered a consistent backer of the plan to employ three divisions simultaneously in the area between the Blue Line, the Israel-Lebanon border, and the Litani River. His appointment yesterday reflects a decision by Halutz to ignore personal considerations - he is friends with Adam and appointed him to his post - and prefer instead the good of the IDF's ground effort in Lebanon, on the eve of the expected cease-fire.