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With his blue uniform, Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz flew into his post as the 18th chief of the IDF General Staff in June 2005 with the speed and agility of a fighter pilot, leading the military through one of its toughest missions - disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
On Tuesday night, however, he finally crash landed after announcing his resignation over the IDF's failures during the second Lebanon war.
After one of the worst campaigns in its history, the IDF desperately needs a new commander, one who can demand and receive the authority needed to rehabilitate a broken-down and defeated military.
Analysis: Why Halutz had to go Now for the political battles Can a 'fly boy' be a chief of staff? A hierarchy gone awry
While Halutz did an exemplary and unprecedented job at probing the IDF's performance during the war - close to 50 committees of inquiry were established - it will now be up to a different officer to lead the necessary reforms in the Ground Forces Command, Military Intelligence, the Israel Navy and the rest of the IDF.
But the change at the top is not enough to get the army back on the right track. The entire top command needs to be shaken up and the stories of infantrymen who hid inside homes in southern Lebanese villages like Ayta a-Sha'ab during the fight against Hizbullah cannot be allowed to happen again. To make sure this happens, the IDF's work plan for 2007 - drafted by Halutz - calls for a major increase in training, review of the military's battle doctrine, and new courses for brigade and division commanders.
Just two weeks ago, Halutz indicated that he planned to stay in the IDF. In a briefing for military correspondents in his office at the Kirya in Tel Aviv, he said he did not interpret the phrase "taking responsibility" to mean resignation. The fact of the matter is, however, that Halutz had made up his mind long before that he would step down following the completion of the probes.
The timing was also perfect from his perspective. On Sunday he met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and presented him with his letter of resignation, but asked him to keep things quiet for a couple of days and not to share the news with Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
While the bad blood between Peretz and Olmert is well known, Halutz and his defense minister were also not on the best of terms. Peretz keeps a picture of himself with Maj.-Gen. (res.) Udi Adam - OC Northern Command during the war and blamed by Halutz for many of the failures - behind his desk at the Defense Ministry. Whenever Halutz stops by, he turns it upside down.
Halutz's decision to step aside weeks before the government-appointed Winograd Commission publishes its interim findings, led one former chief of General Staff to speculate Wednesday that Halutz must have known he was going to be set up to take the fall. By taking off his uniform before he takes the stand, Halutz is in effect enabling himself to pass the buck to his superiors - Olmert and Peretz - and to place the blame for the war's disappointing outcome on the political echelon.
Late Tuesday night, Halutz was sitting at a briefing session with his deputy, Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, who was still unaware of his superior's plans. Following the meeting, at about 11:30 p.m., Halutz took Kaplinsky aside and told him he was resigning. He also told Kaplinsky that he planned to recommend Kaplinsky be appointed as his successor.
Kaplinsky's chances are not bad. He is the natural heir as Halutz's deputy and has very good relations with Olmert and other political officials from his days as Ariel Sharon's military attach . The other leading candidate is Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, the current director-general of the Defense Ministry, who served as deputy chief of General Staff under Halutz's predecessor, Moshe Ya'alon.
Kaplinsky's candidacy is attractive for Olmert since the current deputy chief of General Staff also has a lot to lose before the Winograd Commission. Halutz - by resigning - broke the Three Musketeers' bond ("One for all and all for one") crafted by the Olmert-Peretz-Halutz trio, and Kaplinsky's appointment could recreate that bond, since he is in the same boat as the other two, having played a key role in the Lebanon war decision-making process.
Ashkenazi, however, is something of a loose cannon when it comes to loyalty to Peretz and Olmert. He was not in the IDF during the war and therefore can not be directly blamed for it failures and disappointing outcome. He will not link his survival to theirs.
Whoever Olmert and Peretz decide to appoint as the next chief of General Staff, they had better do so quickly. While Halutz might be leaving, the threats in the Middle East are only growing.
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