Comment: New IDF chief choice is highly political

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 26, 2010
The new Chief of General Staff, Yoav Galant, is disliked by the incumbent

The new Chief of General Staff, Yoav Galant, is disliked by the incumbent

Defence Minister Ehud Barak did not lose a moment. Last Thursday night, the police confirmed that none of the members of the IDF General Staff are suspected of writing the "Galant memo" - an apparently forged document setting out Maj Gen Yoav Galant's aggressive strategy for becoming the next chief-of-staff - and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein informed him that he could legally appoint a new Chief of General Staff (CGS).

Mr Weinstein did add one caveat - he said that from a public point of view, it might be better waiting for a few weeks so the public furor over the dirty-tricks memo could die down. But Mr Barak wasn't having any of that.

He met the candidates on Friday and on Sunday morning announced to the cabinet that he had decided to nominate Major General Yoav Galant. His aides explained that the minister had acted swiftly to prevent the disquiet in the IDF from spreading, but both the manner and the choice speak volumes about the personal and political motives behind Mr Barak's decision.

The defence minister unnecessarily humiliated the popular CGS, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, first by announcing three months ago that he would not have his term extended into a fifth year - although Gen Ashkenazi had never even requested an extension - and then beginning the succession process seven months before the general was due to vacate his office. He did this despite Gen Ashkenazi's express request to wait until November, so that he would not become a lame duck.

Mr Barak's choice of Maj Gen Galant may have been made largely on the general's merits but it was also seen as another direct snub; out of the five candidates, he selected the one that Gen Ashkenazi most disliked and saw as his rival within the General Staff.

The police, for now, do not believe that the dirty tricks memo originated in the defence minister's office, but the source of much of the bad blood seeping through the highest echelons of the defence establishment can certainly be found in Mr Barak's vicinity.

Mr Barak is infamous for his autistic disregard for the feelings of others, but his insistence on putting the CGS in his place has other roots. Under Mr Barak's leadership, Labor is at an unprecedented low in the polls. It is a matter of months before his colleagues force him to leave the coalition or depose him as party chairman, or both. Even he realises that he will never fulfil his dream of returning to the Prime Minister's Office. All he has left is the mantle of the government's defence supremo.

The appointment of the army's chief is the main prerogative of the defence minister. He knows that if he left it for another three months, he may not be in his post.

Mr Barak had no major policy differences with Gen Ashkenazi. But the general's widespread popularity and public image as the man who reformed the IDF after the woeful Second Lebanon War cramped Mr Barak's style. He wanted the CGS to be seen as his subordinate and Gen Ashkenazi could never fit that mould.

Maj Gen Galant, on the other hand, is much more to Mr Barak's liking. He is a daring and controversial officer from a small elite unit, who rose through the ranks despite not belonging to one of the IDF's main cliques and didn't shy away from fraternising with politicians - just like the young Barak. Could that be why he chose him over other officers with more extensive experience in crucial staff positions?

Surely Mr Barak was aware that he was selecting the very officer who would not be afraid to voice different opinions to those of his political master. But then maybe he knows that he won't be around for much longer and someone else can deal with the storm

Last updated: 1:03pm, August 26 2010