With demonstrations in downtown Egypt gaining steam and the Middle East on the verge of a historic upheaval, the IDF was left with a vacuum at the top on Tuesday when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu canceled the appointment of Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant as the next army chief over the land affair that has rocked the military in recent weeks.
Netanyahu announced his decision to Galant after Attorney-General
Yehuda Weinstein decided that the state would not represent the former
head of the Southern Command before the High Court of Justice in a
petition against his appointment as successor to Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who will step down in two weeks.
Barak backs Galant as appointment goes down to wire
Knesset C'tee postpones Ashkenazi farewell
Analysis: Legally and ethically, Galant cannot hold the top IDF post
Weinstein told the High Court that “according to the available data, Galant’s actions [in the Moshav Amikam land dispute] raise significant legal difficulties regarding the reasonability of appointing him as chief of General Staff. Moreover, the attorney- general thinks that it is doubtful whether it is morally appropriate to maintain the appointment.”
Last week, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss released the findings of a special report that determined Galant had lied to the court and the Israel Lands Authority and had seized land allocated to the public for his own use.
News of Netanyahu’s decision, made in consultation with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, sent tremors through the IDF, which will find itself in two weeks without a permanent chief of staff.
Barak said on Tuesday night that he would bring a proposal to the cabinet to appoint Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh as acting chief of staff for 60 days. Naveh would be the first religious officer to hold the post, but would not receive a promotion in rank and would serve in a caretaker status.
During that period, Barak said he would complete the process of selecting a new IDF chief.
Possible candidates to replace Naveh after 60 days are Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, who lost the post originally to Galant and recently retired from the IDF; OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot; and OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi. Sources close to Barak have hinted that the defense minister will also consider officers who retired from service several years ago, such as former deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Kaplinsky.
Another possibility is that Galant will succeed in clearing his name over the next 60 days and be able to get reappointed to the post.
Due to the outcome from the Galant affair, Barak has decided on a new process for appointing a chief of General Staff. He will first decide on a number of candidates and vet them with the attorney-general before selecting the one that will be brought before the cabinet and the Turkel Committee on senior government positions.
In his first public appearance on the matter, Galant went on Channel 2 on Tuesday, just before Netanyahu’s decision, and said he planned to continue fighting for the post.
“I am not quitting and am not leaving,” he said. “I expect the process to continue, and I will go to each and every test that I am summoned for. There may have been mistakes in what I did, but I believe in the government and its institutions. I have defended this country for 34 years, and now I expect that the state will defend me.”
In his statement, Weinstein made it clear that the final decision regarding whether Galant could serve as chief of staff rested with the cabinet, since the government’s decision took into account other issues, including national security and diplomatic and professional considerations.
The petitioners – the Green Movement and others – charged that the Turkel Committee, which was responsible for determining whether Galant was morally suitable for the job, and the cabinet that appointed him, had not done their job properly by examining the candidacy thoroughly before they approved it.
“The fact that the attorneygeneral’s decision contradicts that of the Turkel Committee proves that the committee didn’t do its job properly, and therefore the government’s decision [to appoint Galant] is at fault and must be canceled,” the petitioners’ lawyers, Nadav Applebaum and Ziv Glassberg, told reporters.
Dr. Uri Shanas, chairman of the Green Movement’s board of experts, said in response to the decision that the Green Movement had won an important victory for the preservation of open spaces, for equality and for the rule of law.
“The Green Movement has raised the flag of ethics and values and is extremely happy that the justice system has supported it without reservations,” said Shanas.
Meanwhile, Naveh faces a High Court challenge of his own. In a petition filed against his appointment as deputy chief of General Staff by Gush Shalom, Yesh Gvul and other left-wing activists, the plaintiffs claim that in 2006, while he was OC Central Command, Naveh authorized assassinations of Palestinians in violation of High Court directives.
Naveh got in trouble in 2009 when he responded to a journalist’s question about whether or not he had violated the court’s directives, by saying offhandedly, “Don’t bother me about the High Court’s instructions.”
Naveh recently submitted a letter to the court in response to the petition, explaining that his statement had been misconstrued and expressing his deep respect and appreciation of the court. He apologized for any misunderstanding.