Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on Tuesday that he would not extend his term by another year, which would have put him at the army’s helm for five years.
Ashkenazi had expected that his term would be extended, defense officials confirmed on Tuesday, and the decision was viewed as a blow to the army commander.
But officers close to Ashkenazi claimed that he had never asked Barak or Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for a fifth year, and therefore was taken aback by Barak’s decision to release the statement to the press on Tuesday.Related:
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Ashkenazi is slated to complete his four-year term as chief of General Staff in February 2011. On Tuesday, Barak met with Ashkenazi and said that his decision was supported by Netanyahu and that both men held Ashkenazi in high regard.
Barak told Ashkenazi that he had faith that the chief of General Staff would continue to serve in his job faithfully and invest efforts in preparing the IDF for the challenges it faced.
Ashkenazi, 56, was said to be interested in having his term extended by a year in light of the threats that Israel faced from Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas. A decision to extend his term would have fit in to the general culture of recent appointments within the defense establishment, particularly the government’s decision to extend the tenure of Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin.
“Dagan and Diskin both had their tenures extended due to the security threats that Israel faces,” one officer said. “Do these threats not apply to Ashkenazi?”
Ashkenazi on Tuesday issued a rare statement via IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu, saying that he never asked for his term to be extended.
He also recommended that given the complex challenges that Israel faces, people focus on “what’s important.”
“I would like to clarify that I never asked the prime minister, the defense minister or anyone else to extend my term for a fifth year,” Ashkenazi said.
“I think that the government’s decision, when I started my job, that the term should be for four years is correct and proper, and therefore I do not see any reason to talk about a fifth year when it is not on the agenda.”
Leading candidates to replace Ashkenazi are Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant and OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. Another possible candidate is former deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Kaplinsky.
Relations between Barak and Ashkenazi have been tense until recently,
partly due to media reports that Barak was considering extending
Ashkenazi’s term, reports that were believed to have originated in
Benayahu’s office. One such report that aired on Channel 1 several
months ago led Barak to release a statement slamming Benayahu.
Kadima MK Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet, said on
Tuesday that Barak’s decision stemmed from personal considerations.
“It is clear to everyone that Ashkenazi is performing his job
remarkably and there is no one more suitable to serve as the commander
of the IDF,” Hasson said.