(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson’s office)
The protracted behind-the-scenes infighting and power struggles in our military establishment’s upper echelon seem finally to be reaching an end. If all proceeds as expected, Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz will be the IDF’s next chief of General Staff.
He crossed the first hurdle Sunday after receiving the cabinet’s approval. If the Turkel Committee now okays the appointment and the cabinet issues a final approval, Gantz will take over for Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on February 14.
One potential hitch does remain: Though an petition by Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant to the High Court of Justice to freeze Gantz’s appointment was rejected, the court did agree to consider the legality of Galant’s appointment cancellation, which was triggered by revelations of apparent misconduct connected with the building of his home in Moshav Amikam.
But assuming the court will not attempt to overturn a cabinet decision, the battle to succeed Ashkenazi is all but over, and the sooner the better. The ongoing tensions and intrigues involving Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Ashkenazi, Galant and others are having a devastating impact on IDF morale.
FROM THE very start, the Ashkenazi replacement process was hardly auspicious. Over the summer, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in a highly publicized manner, made it clear to Ashkenazi that his four-year term would not be extended by an additional year. The announcement was surprising not only because Ashkenazi had made no such request, but also because he appeared eminently deserving of an additional year of service. Ashkenazi had successfully implemented far-reaching structural changes in the IDF in response to the lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War debacle, and his work was far from done.
Even more suspicious was Barak’s stubborn refusal last week, after the appointment of Galant was doomed by the attorney-general, to extend Ashkenazi’s term for a few months until a replacement was found. Before the Gantz appointment materialized, the defense minister seriously considered the temporary appointment of Yair Naveh for a month or two, a move widely perceived to be motivated more by narrow interest than common sense.
Then there is the “Galant affair.” In an attempt to discredit Galant, a
forged document was leaked to Channel 2 as evidence of a nasty PR
campaign launched against Galant’s competitors for the chief of staff
The document revealed a highly unflattering picture of the inner
workings of the General Staff and the Defense Ministry. It is still
unclear exactly what connections Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz had to
Ashkenazi; he is rumored to have wielded influence in the military
establishment. The attorney-general is investigating the matter.
Years before any of the controversies surrounding Ashkenazi’s
replacement erupted, there were signs of disturbing behind-the-scenes
intrigues involving politics and personal interests in the IDF’s
uppermost echelon. Just nine months after Ashkenazi’s appointment, Gen.
(res.) Avigdor “Yanush” Ben-Gal had quoted the new chief of staff as
having said, “I have no one to work with. They are all politicians.”
Former chief of General Staff (2002-2005) Moshe Ya’alon, in his book The
Long Short Way, complains about the unhealthily close ties formed
between certain IDF commanders and former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s
Negev “ranch forum” of intimates and their shared PR men.
But rarely has the politicization of the IDF been so blatant as in
recent months, with egos and personal rivalries preoccupying our most
senior military men.
WORD HAS it that all of this cynical jockeying for power, and the
transformation of the IDF into an arena for the egoistic drives and
ambitions, has had an unsurprisingly negative impact within the IDF
hierarchy, particularly among the talented and idealistic low- and
middle-ranking combat officers, some of whom are deliberating whether or
not to commit their working lives to the IDF.
What they see is not encouraging.
If the IDF’s most senior leaders are motivated by their own
self-interests, not by the desire to selflessly serve the nation, how
can these commanders expect anything more of their soldiers? More to the
point, can a lower-ranking officer be confident that the thinking
behind military orders coming from higher up is pure? Under such
circumstances why would an ambitious young man choose a dangerous
calling that also demands major sacrifices from his wife and children?
Gantz, a child of Holocaust survivors and a lifelong soldier, would seem
to epitomize the qualities of selflessness and love of country. His
first order of business, once confirmed, will be to restore the idealism
and pure motivation to serve undermined by the recent controversies.
There are too many challenges facing our small nation to permit the
frivolity of behind-the-scenes intrigues.