Top State Panel Ready to Debate Appointment of Gantz as IDF Chief

Cabinet okays the choice of Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, but not without acrimonious debate.

The Netanyahu government yesterday overturned the decision to make Yoav Galant the 20th chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz's appointment to the top army post will be brought tomorrow for approval before the Turkel committee on senior appointments.

Meanwhile, the High Court of Justice will tomorrow consider a petition submitted by Galant, demanding that the government bring the matter of his appointment to the Turkel panel for reconsideration. Since only a week is left until current Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi completes his term, it is possible that Gantz will assume his new role in an interim capacity until his appointment is official.

gantz - Moti Milrod - February 7 2011
Moti Milrod

At yesterday's cabinet meeting, Minister Uzi Landau voted against cancelling the Galant appointment, and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to give up on the veteran officer, whose promotion to chief of staff has been compromised by allegations of illicit land appropriation on Moshav Amikam.

Netanyahu explained that "the IDF needs stability," and defended his - and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's - decision to appoint Maj. Gen. Gantz instead.

For his part, Barak stated that the timing of the disclosure of the Galant land scandal was not coincidental, and he added that various "impure things" scuttled the appointment.

Barak also attacked Minister Michael Eitan, who termed Galant a "Mafioso," and argued at length with Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who has been critical of the defense minister's handling of the chief of staff appointment.

Ya'alon declared yesterday that "it must be admitted that we have failed as a government," regarding the entire process; he also complained about what he sees as a smear campaign being led by Barak's office against Ashkenazi. (See story, Page 2 )

The cabinet meeting was delayed two hours yesterday as a result of the Galant High Court petition in the morning. Galant asked the court to issue a temporary injunction against the nullification of his appointment, and against Gantz's nomination for the top IDF post; he also demanded that the Turkel committee reconsider his own appointment. Justice Elyakim Rubinstein rejected the request, but ordered the court to discuss Galant's petition tomorrow.

Galant's war

According to sources close to him, Galant is currently waging a war to clear his name - not necessarily to regain his chief of staff appointment. He bears no grudge against Gantz, they add.

The chances Galant will succeed to reverse the cancellation of his appointment are slim. His High Court appeal also poses a risk: The court's actions could lead to wider disclosure of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein's findings about Gantz's possible violations of the law and his alleged failure to disclose the truth in the land-grab affair.

Benny Gantz agreed to accept the chief of staff nomination after some equivocation. He had received offers to serve as CEO of several private firms. Family members were not enthusiastic about his agreement to take the demanding job - especially since the last round of the chief of staff appointment, which culminated in the Galant decision, has left a bitter taste in people's mouths.

Last Friday Gantz met with Netanyahu and Barak for 90 minutes, during which time his appointment was clinched. On Thursday, Gantz had been summoned to Barak's office, and he asked the defense minister whether he was merely a "straw" candidate. After Barak reassured him, Gantz declared that he is a "soldier of the state," adding, "I will do what is needed."

In discussions with friends, Gantz said: "There are situations in which you want to do something, and in which you need to do something. For 33 years I have been a soldier. I can cope with another three years."

Gantz is ready for his new assignment. As deputy chief of staff until last November, he prepared IDF's plan of action for this year. He is expected to bring a new style to the top post.

"After years of tyranny under Dan Halutz and Gabi Ashkenazi," stated one IDF officer who served under these two past chiefs, "Gantz will consult and listen."

The IDF General Staff is rife with speculation and predictions. One question is how will Gantz deal with the group of aides that Galant already appointed. The possibility that Gantz will order a wholesale personnel change seems unlikely, given the fact that even though Galant will likely no longer be around, Barak remains in power. This is the same defense minister who stubbornly refused to authorize an extension of Ashkenazi's term by even a single day, thereby creating a tremendously tight timetable for the new chief of staff appointment.

Barak continues to be very concerned with settling accounts with all of Ashkenazi's circle. Gantz, for his part, will have to find a way to calm the ill feelings caused by the Ashkenazi-Barak dispute.

Meanwhile, officers who attempted to make connections with Galant after he was first appointed chief of staff six months ago, while they ignored Gantz, are currently seeking ways to forge ties with the new chief of staff-designate.