While Defense Minister Ehud Barak speaks daily about the need to renew peace talks with the Palestinians, some foreign diplomats and IDF officers have expressed surprise at the apparent lack of importance he attributes to the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
Known by its acronym COGAT, the coordinator is a position filled by an IDF major-general, who is responsible for coordinating all of the civilian and defense affairs with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The last head of COGAT, Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav, retired from the IDF more than a year ago. At the time, Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi failed to agree on a replacement and decided to appoint Amos Gilad, who already has a fulltime job as head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, as the temporary head.
Over two months ago, Barak and Ashkenazi finally reached an agreement and decided to appoint Barak's military secretary, Brig.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, as the next COGAT. Despite the appointment, Dangot has yet to take up his new post and, as seen this week at a number of public events, is still trailing the defense minister as his military secretary.
"This is very strange, especially at a time when Israel is under attack for its conduct in the Gaza Strip by reports like the Goldstone Mission," explained one senior IDF officer last week.
"At a time when coordination with the Palestinians is such a sensitive issue and Israel is trying to get the peace talks back on track, it would make sense to have a person in the position who can give it his full attention."
While Gilad has served as COGAT in the past,
even officials close to him admit it is not a job to which he can give 100 percent of his time, due to his commitments as the defense minister's top diplomatic adviser and to his frequent trips abroad.
While the economic situation in the West Bank has improved dramatically over the past year, this is mostly due to the work of Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, who has succeeded in positioning himself as the top IDF officer responsible for the Palestinians. He also serves as Ashkenazi's private emissary to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Sources close to Barak explained that he was waiting to find an appropriate replacement for Dangot before releasing him to his next position as COGAT. This seems strange, though, considering that Barak has already interviewed several senior officers, including Mordechai and Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of the Military Intelligence's Research Division, both well-respected officers said to be qualified for the position.
Barak's spokesman Barak Seri said on Saturday that his office would release a statement when Dangot takes up his position as COGAT.