The New Military Front - Barak Versus Ashkenazi

Any Israeli can tell you the four fronts that are likely to flare up as early as this summer, one after the other: Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. But some people inside the system are determined to open yet another front, the internal one.

Any Israeli can tell you, even while tossing in his sleep, the four fronts that are likely - according to our leaders - to flare up as early as this summer, one after the other: Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. It's only logical to avoid other unnecessary fronts in the hope of getting through the summer safely.

But some people inside the system are determined to open yet another front, the internal one: Defense Minister Ehud Barak versus Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. This conflict focuses on the timing of Barak's announcement, with the government's approval, of the next IDF chief of staff. Barak aims to make an announcement in the near future. Ashkenazi hopes to reach the autumn without people breathing down his neck and expressing their aspirations.

In the background, the lengthy terms of the heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet security service, Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin, are due to end. It's possible that Diskin will transfer and head the Mossad, and that he will determine his successor at the Shin Bet and thus assume the role of "the man in charge." This is what Isser Harel, who headed both organizations, was called.

If Barak were genuinely concerned about continuity, he would already have announced, as he planned to do last year, that he was appointing Brig. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, who is currently unemployed not of his own will, to head Military Intelligence in place of Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, who is eager to be released.

Barak's argument is not to the point. It is merely a display of authority and power so that everyone can see and be seen marching and saluting. The essence of the argument is that one can present different points of view, like a buyer or a seller, depending on where the person making the claim is. When Barak was about to become chief of staff, he ensured that the government would announce his appointment four and a half months in advance. But as outgoing chief of staff he fought to have the decision about his successor delayed even though the identity of the sole candidate, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, was known.

There is logic to an early announcement that will allow the runners-up to retire soon, get used to a new way of life and open up the bottleneck in this round of appointments to the next in line. But there is also logic in waiting until around the time the current commanders are due to end their terms and uphold the principle of unity of command. (Lame ducks can only be found in shooting ranges or butcher shops. ) Eight to 10 months in advance is too long.

Ashkenazi's situation is surprisingly similar to that of Police Commissioner David Cohen, who like him is embroiled in a confrontation with a (public security ) minister who came from his own organization, retired superintendent Yitzhak Aharonovitch. Ashkenazi took over in the middle of February 2007 and Cohen in May of that year. They were both surprise appointments, for four-year terms, in the shadow of commissions of inquiry headed by retired judges - the Winograd Committee that investigated the war in Lebanon under chief of staff Dan Halutz, who hastened to retire before the panel presented interim findings; and the Zeiler Committee that looked into the Parinyan brothers affair and led to the retirement of police commissioner Moshe Karadi.

Both Ashkenazi and Cohen are hard-working people who don't spend much time making public comments. Both have younger brothers with the same rank - Brig. Gen. Avi Ashkenazi and Motti Cohen, who holds the corresponding police rank. And the state comptroller was troubled by the way both the chief of staff and the police commissioner were involved in their brothers' appointments. Both hope that their successors will not be the people who commanded the southern region during most of their service as chiefs - GOC Southern Command Yoav Gallant and Southern District police commander Uri Bar-Lev.

The reservoir of officers who are due to be promoted is no secret. At the police, for example, there are 16 superintendents, 10 of whom will retire in the coming year. There are another 47 brigadier generals and 128 commanders. Any police commissioner or chief of staff would promote more or less the same handful of the most talented among them, although maybe not exactly to the same positions. An announcement about the next commissioner, were it to be made now instead of at the beginning of 2011, would be a blow below Cohen's belt. That's not the way to combine efforts to fight either crime or the enemy.