To become chief of General Staff of the Israeli army, a general must prove that he can overcome obstacles, outsmart his enemy, and win tough tactical skirmishes.
And that’s just on the political battlefield.
The military qualifications necessary to be chief of General Staff are
immense, but – for better or for worse – politics have more often than
not been what has decided the fate of the IDF’s top job.
Current chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gabi Ashkenazi, who finishes his term in February, has made an effort to
keep a low profile and steer clear of politics.
But the appointment of a general known for his professionalism and
aversion to politics and the press was itself a political statement by
then-defense minister Amir Peretz, whose credibility in the post was
The history of battles among generals in Israel is almost as storied as
that of their battles against the enemies of the Jewish state. Just five
years ago, then prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed Lt.-Gen. Dan
Halutz as the first CGS from the Air Force. The appointment raised
eyebrows at the time and was seen as connected to Halutz’s support for
the Gaza Strip disengagement and his friendship with Sharon’s family.
Current Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon, who was forced out early to make way
for Halutz, did not hide his bitterness at Sharon and then-defense
minister Shaul Mofaz.
“I was once asked why I continue to wear boots in the kiriya [Tel Aviv
IDF headquarters],? Ya’alon said in a memorable speech. “I answered that
it is because of the snakes.”
Mofaz was given the CGS job over presumed front-running candidate Lt.-
Gen. Matan Vilna’i by then-defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai (Likud) in
1998 in a move that was seen as taking revenge against the country’s
Future prime ministers Sharon and Ehud Barak were outraged when they
were not appointed CGS. Barak stayed in the army and received assurances
that he would get the job next time, and he did. Sharon left for
politics and never got the job.
Perhaps the dirtiest race for CGS came in 1987 when top candidate Dan
Shomron was accused behind the scenes by his two predecessors in the
post, Rafael Eitan and Moshe Levy, of being a closet homosexual and
therefore susceptible to blackmail. Shomron became CGS only after he
passed a lie detector test.
THE SCANDAL that broke last Friday night, casting a shadow over the
current race for CGS, was only the latest tale of intrigue in the
sullied history of competition for a post seen as an inevitable
launching pad to a second career in politics.
And as more details came out over the past week, the more complex the
A document revealed on Channel 2’s Ulpan Shishi newsmagazine appeared to
indicate that communications strategist Eyal Arad was advising the
front-running candidate for CGS, OC Southern Command Maj. Gen.
Yoav Galant. The document, containing the logo of Arad Communications,
proposed a public relations campaign for Galant that would create a
positive image for him and negative images for Ashkenazi and another CGS
candidate, current deputy CGS Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz. The document
suggested promoting Gantz in the media as a replacement for outgoing
Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin or Mossad chief Meir
Dagan, recommended ways to deal with potential opposition to Galant’s
appointment by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and highlighted
differences between Galant and Ashkenazi on Operation Cast Lead.
For Ashkenazi, the document’s author advised “developing a profile of a
disgruntled [public official],” like former foreign minister David Levy
and as someone who tends to take offense easily.
Newspaper headlines had already made the negative Ashkenazi-Levy
comparison on Friday morning.
The scandal brought to the surface ongoing fights between Galant and
Ashkenazi, Ashkenazi and Barak, and among aides to the defense minister
and CGS. All along, Arad has denied any connection to the affair,
despite past business connections and current friendships with the
The Ashkenazi-Galant dispute began as a battle over credit for the
successes of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and continued with a fight over
who would be Ashkenazi’s deputy. Barak wanted Galant in the post but
Ashkenazi vetoed the appointment and wanted OC Northern Command
Gadi Eisencott, before Gantz got the job as a compromise candidate.
Reports this week revealed that in closed conversations, Ashkenazi had
said that Galant was “corrupted” during his time as Sharon’s military
aide, because he spent too much time with politicians, reporters, and
image consultants like Arad.
The Barak-Ashkenazi fight came to light with the dispute over
Ashkenazi’s deputy and intensified after Channel 1 falsely reported that
Barak was considering letting Ashkenazi stay on for an extra year, due
to the Iranian threat.
The fierce denial of the report by Barak’s office and the question of
who leaked the story to Channel 1 simmered tensions between the defense
minister and Ashkenazi and between Barak’s bureau chief Yoni Koren and
IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu.
Galant has been friends with Koren for decades, going back to their days
in the Tzofim youth movement in Ramat Gan. Benayahu once worked for
Arad, who was once business partners with Koren, who is reportedly close
to Arad’s current business partner, Lior Chorev.
Arad has maintained that he has not met with Galant since the time they
both advised Sharon, but he did admit that he called him two years ago
when he needed help in getting his son into a particular IDF unit.
The scandal has delayed the appointment of a CGS, which Barak had
insisted on making in the next month, despite the fact that Ashkenazi is
only due to leave the post in February 2011.
Fingers are now pointed in all directions.
Proponents of the straightforward theory believe that Galant, Barak or
Koren drafted the document together with a member of Arad’s staff.
Advocates of the opposite approach think that someone like Benayahu
conspired with other enemies of Barak like his former bureau chief Eldad
Yaniv and framed Arad and Galant in the process.
Then there are the possibilities that a rival image consultant drafted
and leaked the document to Channel 2 to harm Arad or that a right-wing
activist initiated the entire episode to avenge the disengagement and
the role played in it by Galant and Arad. Police have been keeping leads
in the investigation close to their chest and any leaks have been
firmly denied. According to one report, the probe could take up to two
months while another said it would be wrapped up much quicker.
No matter how long it takes and no matter who ends up getting implicated
in the scandal, the scandal will always be remembered for how
Ashkenazi’s replacement got his job. And whoever the new CGS will be,
there is no doubt that he will already be a survivor on the political