As the Hebrew saying goes: ‘The fish stinks from the head'

Netanyahu, as PM, bears a heavy responsibility for the shenanigans that have surrounded the appointment of the 20th chief of General Staff.

February 13, 2011 23:23
4 minute read.
Jeff Barak

Jeff Barak headshot 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The heightened interest in today’s changeover of the IDF chief of General Staff reflects more the low standing of the country’s political leaders than any sudden change in the role of the army in society.

Indeed, there are many who suspect that Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s unseemly antagonism toward outgoing Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is driven by envy of his popularity among the general public.

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While both men have been responsible for the IDF’s transformation in terms of training and sense of preparedness since its disappointing performance in the Second Lebanon War four years ago, only Ashkenazi has received credit for this turnaround.

Even when Ashkenazi made a serious error of judgment – such as in his handling of the Harpaz document, which he should have brought to Barak’s attention immediately rather than sticking it away in a drawer so that it could be later produced at an opportune moment – the public has been quick to forgive, preferring instead to cast Barak in the role of inept schemer. It will be interesting to see whether a new book scheduled for release this week, which claims that the links between Ashkenazi and Harpaz are closer than previously thought, will change this perception.

But Barak, of course, has brought this upon himself.

His political second coming has been an unmitigated disaster, the roots of which lie in his antidemocratic decision two years ago to join Binyamin Netanyahu’s government despite Labor’s humiliation at the polls and the extreme right-wing make up of Netanyahu’s other coalition partners. Even though Barak has now left Labor, it is unclear whether the party will ever be able to lift itself out of the depths into which he pushed it.

BARAK, THOUGH, has not acted alone. He has been supported and backed up all along by Netanyahu, who even went to the extraordinary lengths of granting Barak’s five-member breakaway faction – as great a collection of political nonentities as has ever graced our political life – a jaw-dropping bounty of four ministerial posts and a Knesset committee chairmanship.

As the Hebrew expression goes “the fish stinks from the head,” and Netanyahu, as prime minister, bears a heavy responsibility for the shenanigans that have surrounded the appointment of the 20th chief of General Staff. Agreeing to Barak’s desire to turn Ashkenazi into a lame duck for the last six months of his tenure by naming a new chief at an unnecessarily early stage, Netanyahu then rode roughshod over the concerns surrounding the real-estate skeleton in Yoav Galant’s closet and forced a cabinet vote on the issue.

Once it became clear to even Barak and Netanyahu (neither of whom is noted for his sensitivity to the norms of public behavior expected from senior officials) that Galant’s position was untenable, they then first attempted to foist an unworkable solution on the army in the form of a temporary chief of General Staff rather than ask Ashkenazi to extend his term. Belatedly, they came to their senses, but at the cost of having Maj.-Gen.

Benny Gantz’s promotion being greeted more with a sense of relief that the distractions of the past few months are behind us, rather than a feeling that the best man has been chosen for the job.

GIVEN THE irresponsibility shown by our leaders during his appointment process, Gantz bears a heavier burden than most incoming IDF commanders. He needs to quickly impose his leadership on his battered General Staff colleagues, who have suffered the collateral damage of the inept changeover process, and project his vision for the IDF down through the ranks.

This would be difficult enough in normal times but these, following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, are certainly not normal times.

Netanyahu, rather than distance the country from the events in Tahrir Square, recklessly inserted it into the domestic Egyptian political argument at the beginning of the Cairo revolution.

His fear-mongering statements (another Netanyahu specialty) concerning the prospect of a “second Iran” on our southern border, and his call to Western leaders to take action to dampen the shocks of the Egyptian protest movement unnecessarily placed us on the side of a despised dictator.

While Israel has to acknowledge Mubarak’s immense contribution to ensuring stability in the Middle East and the peace treaty between the two countries, it is not for Jerusalem to make demands concerning the internal political developments in another country. And anyway, the move against Mubarak was not spurred by the religious fanaticism Netanyahu so fears, but more by an economic reality in which a tiny elite, buoyed by its closeness to political power, controls the riches of an entire country, condemning the masses to a life of poverty and hardship.

In fact, if Netanyahu was truly serious about Middle East stability, he would have done more in his two years in office toward seeking an agreement with the Palestinian Authority and a peace deal with Syria’s President Bashar Assad.

One can only hope and pray that the IDF, under the new leadership of Benny Gantz, will not have to pay the price of this inaction on the diplomatic front.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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