Analysis: Barak shows who's boss

Defense minister's announcement leaves little doubt that despite growing threats against Israel, two of its main security officials don't get along.

April 7, 2010 05:17
2 minute read.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

ehud barak 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The timing of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's announcement on Tuesday not to extend IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi's term leaves little doubt that despite the growing threats against Israel, two of the country's main security officials do not get along.

Why else would have Barak released such a statement? After all, when the government approved his appointment in 2007, Ashkenazi's term was set as four years, in contrast to his predecessor Dan Halutz, who stepped down prematurely due to the Second Lebanon War.

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Ashkenazi was the first chief of staff to enter office with a fixed four-year term. Some before him had their terms extended to four. Others, like Moshe Ya'alon - ­ currently minister for strategic affairs - ­ stepped down after three. As a result, there was really no need for a press
statement to declare that there would not be a fifth year.

To understand this move, one has to understand the complex relationship today between Barak and Ashkenazi.

First, despite the grave threats that Israel faces and that led the government to extend the terms of the Mossad and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chiefs, Barak and Ashkenazi are doing what most defense ministers and chiefs of staff have done before them: fight.

The tension between the two is no secret within the corridors of the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv. Several recent examples include the appointment of the deputy chief of staff, which was dragged out for months since the two could not agree on a candidate. Barak wanted OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant; Ashkenazi wanted OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. In the end, the two compromised on Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, who was serving as the IDF military attaché in the United States at the time.

Next came Barak's response to a report on Channel 1 several months ago that he was considering extending Ashkenazi's term. At the time, Barak issued a statement denying the report and claiming that it was the work of IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu. The decision to single out Benayahu, a senior officer and close associate of Ashkenazi, was viewed as a power play to undermine the chief of staff.

Barak's associates viewed Ashkenazi's attempts to gain a fifth year, as part of an effort to undermine the defense minister¹s achievements. By declaring on Tuesday that Ashkenazi¹s term would not be extended, Barak was showing the country who was the real boss.

At the same time, Barak's office could also argue that it had decided to
publish the statement to create order in the General Staff. Now, Barak could say, it was clear to Galant, Gantz and Eizenkot that the race to succeed Ashkenazi had begun.

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