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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Gabi Ashkenazi will have his work cut out for him when he takes over as the IDF's 19th chief of General Staff on Wednesday. He will be making history twice - once as the first army chief to come from the Golani Brigade and second as the first general brought back from the reserves to lead the military.
The day will begin at the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem, where Ashkenazi will be promoted to lieutenant-general by outgoing Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz. Ashkenazi and Halutz will then travel to the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv for the formal transfer of command. Halutz, at 58 the oldest army chief in the IDF history and the first to come from the air force, will convene the General Staff for a final time.
The changing of the guard is scheduled for 1 p.m. Halutz is to make one final review of an honor guard, address the troops and then take leave of his 41-year military career. Immediately after the ceremony, Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi is to convene his first General Staff meeting, where traditionally the new army chief lays out his vision for the IDF.
On Tuesday, Halutz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, "The worst thing that could happen to a leader is that his No. 2 man stabs him in the back."
It was not clear to whom Halutz was referring, but the IDF Spokesman's Office released a statement saying the jab was not directed at Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky.
Some of the Knesset members interpreted his remark as referring to the criticism he has received from many, including with the military.
"Although I will no longer be in this uniform, I will still find a way to contribute to the state," Halutz told the committee.
"I thank you for the privilege given to me as head of the army. The final message I wish to send is that a strong army is essential for a strong Israel, and this is the banner that always needs to be raised above all others," he said.
Ashkenazi faces a number of challenges. In light of the lesson of the Lebanon war, 2007 has been designated by the IDF's work plan as a year of "training and preparation" for potential conflicts against the Palestinians, Syria and Hizbullah. Ashkenazi, who is regarded as an excellent field commander, will come under a public microscope regarding his handling of Iran and other strategic threats.
One of the first items on Ashkenazi's agenda will be the reshuffling of the IDF command. Several generals are expected to resign in the coming months, including Kaplinsky, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh - unless he is offered OC Ground Forces or deputy chief of General Staff - OC Manpower Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern and OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin.
Ashkenazi, his associates said, has been trying to convince Kaplinsky to remain as his No. 2 and to stay in uniform until the end of his four year term as army chief. Kaplinsky has yet to announce his decision, but IDF sources said Tuesday that he would probably resign in a few months.
Ashkenazi will need to decide if he wants to call former major-generals back to service or to promote brigadier-generals to the General Staff.
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima) presented Halutz with a plaque and thanked him warmly on behalf of the panel.
MK Zvi Hendel (National Union-NRP), however, interrupted Hanegbi's speech saying, "Should we also remind him of the gift that we tried to give him at Gush Katif?" referring to the protests that occurred prior to the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom then added: "You should give those gifts to Arik [Ariel Sharon]. You can put them on his grave."
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz broke up the discussion by saying: "Not now, this is not the place."