Scandal brings down Israel's top soldier

By Nathan Jeffay, February 3, 2011

Israelis are notoriously prone to squabbling with their neighbours. But never before has a neighbourly dispute spiralled in to the kind of crisis the country has seen this week, shaking the political and military establishment.

On Tuesday, just two weeks before the Israel Defence Force's new Chief of Staff was due to take up his post, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak announced that they were overturning his appointment.

Their decision came six days after state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said that the intended chief of staff Yoav Galant had lied in court, and a few hours after Israel's attorney general Yehuda Weinstein gave his reaction to this finding, saying that it raised "significant legal difficulties for the decision to appoint him."

Deputy chief of staff Yair Naveh will take over on an interim basis when the outgoing chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi retires on February 14.

Mr Weinstein said that in view of the claims against Mr Galant he would be unable to defend him in court. He also questioned whether upholding his appointment was "morally appropriate".

Chief of Staff Galant had 'lied in court'

The controversy stems from an accusation that Mr Galant encroached on state land when he extended his home on Moshav Amikam near Haifa some years ago. A fortnight ago, Mr Galant seemed to be weathering the storm - the High Court rejected the Green Movement's petition to block his appointment. But then came the state comptroller's bombshell - that when he declared in a sworn affidavit that he had asked for permission to exceed his construction rights before building, he had lied.

At the Defence Ministry there is deep frustration that scandal has brought down the soldier widely considered the best placed to lead the IDF. Mr Galant, most recently head of the Southern Command, is credited with planning and directing the Gaza War of 2008-2009.

Yagil Levy, an expert on public attitudes towards the military from Israel's Open University, said that citizens see selecting a suitable chief of staff as a significant "test" for the political establishment. This saga will lead to a "potential decline in public trust in the manner by which politicians supervise the military".

Last updated: 2:26pm, February 3 2011