Turkel panel to evaluate Gantz for IDF chief

By , GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 7, 2011 01:47

PM: Stability of IDF much more important given shocks in region; Ashkenazi says he feels comfortable with Gantz appointment.




Benny Gantz leaving home in Raanana

BennyGantzHome311. (photo credit: GIDEON MARKOWICZ)

The Turkel Committee that vets senior appointments is scheduled to meet Tuesday to review the nomination of Maj.- Gen Benny Gantz for the job of chief of General Staff, after the cabinet – in an acrimonious meeting Sunday during which Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Independence) traded recriminations with a number of ministers – voted to rescind the nomination of Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant.

The cabinet vote was 26 to 1, with two ministers absent. National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau (National Union) cast the lone dissenting vote.

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The cabinet meeting took place shortly after the High Court of Justice rejected an appeal by Galant, in which he asked to freeze the appointment process while his petition to the High Court against the cancellation of his appointment as army chief was being discussed.

Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, however, did not issue an interim order that would have frozen the process and said instead that Galant’s claim against the cancellation of his appointment would be brought before High Court justices on Tuesday.

Thus the appointment process for Gantz will be allowed to continue. It is considered most unlikely that the court would foist a chief of General Staff on the government, after the government itself rejected him.

At the outset of what was described as a stormy cabinet meeting, Netanyahu addressed the saga over the Galant appointment, saying, “The stability of the IDF is always important, but it is much more important now given the deep shocks in our region.”

As a result, he said, he decided with Barak to push forward Gantz’s nomination.

While expressing appreciation for Galant’s long years of service, and sympathy for his disappointment at not getting the job, Netanyahu said he needed to make “clear decisions” on the matter “to lift the cloud of uncertainty from the IDF senior command.”

Gantz, Netanyahu said, has all the qualifications needed for the army’s top job.

“He is an experienced commander and an excellent officer. He has all the qualities and all the necessary experience to be an excellent IDF Chief of General Staff.”

After his comments, the gloves came off, with various ministers sharply criticizing Barak for his handling of the appointment, and Barak responding in kind.

The harshest attacks came from Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), a former chief of General Staff who sees himself as a future defense minister.

He defended outgoing IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi from Barak’s recent attacks against him, accusing the defense minister and his staff of running a systematic campaign against Ashkenazi that included leaks, smears and briefings to journalists.

“The chief of General Staff is under attack by the defense minister’s bureau and we must defend him,” Ya’alon said. “We cannot allow his blood to be abandoned.”

Ya’alon said his heart went out to Galant even though he failed an ethical test and did not abide by the law. He said the ministers were aware of the circumstances of the public land he confiscated near his house in Moshav Amikam when they approved his appointment last year, and that was why he at the time requested that a decision not be made hastily.

“I realized we had an IDF chief with a cloud over his head,” Ya’alon said. “It is still an open question why we were pressured to appoint Galant despite the charges against him.”

Barak said that the media coverage of the land scandal which led to the cancellation of Galant’s appointment was not a coincidence but was part of a larger plan to torpedo his ascendance to the top army post.

The so-called and allegedly forged “Harpaz Document,” Barak said, was the first attempt to take Galant out of the race and that, after that failed, the land scandal was purposely brought back to life in the final weeks before Galant was scheduled to replace Ashkenazi, who steps down next Monday.

“Whoever thinks that the blowing up of Galant’s land issue just weeks before he was to be appointed was a coincidence does not know where he lives,” Barak reportedly said.

Barak criticized his fellow ministers for blasting Galant in the media.

“It is completely inappropriate for a minister to call a serving general in the IDF a mafioso,” Barak said in reference to a statement made last month by Likud Minister Michael Eitan. “We need to restrain ourselves.”

“We all know that if Galant was running to become defense minister or strategic affairs minister with the same house and the same land affairs, then the attorney-general would have been asked a different question: Was there a legal problem? And in this case, Galant would have been found suitable to serve as a minister,” Barak said.

Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) said Barak’s decision to bring Galant’s appointment to a vote months ago without telling the ministers in advance was very problematic.

Landau, the only minister who voted against cancelling Galant’s appointment, called it a gloomy day for the political, legal and media echelons in Israel.

He accused the media of “orchestrating a public lynching of Galant” and politicians of being “too afraid to stand behind what they believe in.”

“I was shocked by the behavior of the prime minister and defense minister in the entire episode,” Landau said. “They chose Galant and they should have stood by him. They knew all along what they know now. It was wrong to cancel their decision and to let the court intervene. They shouldn’t be yoyos.”

Meanwhile, Ashkenazi said Sunday that following the decision to appoint Gantz, he felt he was leaving the IDF in “responsible and professional hands.”

“I am leaving with a feeling of satisfaction and I have no doubt that the IDF will continue to do what is important to protect the State of Israel,” Ashkenazi said during a farewell visit to Central Command headquarters in the capital’s Neveh Ya’acov neighborhood.


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