(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Tension between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General
Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi hit a new high point on Thursday as Barak began
interviewing candidates to replace Ashkenazi, who still has six months
Undermining Ashkenazi, the army & the country
Ashkenazi's term won't be extended
Military sources close to Ashkenazi said Barak’s decision to
start the process so early and to announce the next army chief by the
end of the
month was a ploy to force the chief of staff into early retirement. The
said Ashkenazi did not plan to play into Barak’s hands and would remain
IDF’s helm until the scheduled end of his term.
Barak on Thursday tried
to downplay the frictions. “Israel is blessed with a terrific chief of staff,’
he said, “and I can only promise that we will continue to work together until
his last day in office... In the end, the chief of staff and I are responsible
together for the state’s security.”
Relations between the two men have
been sour for over a year due to professional disagreements and Barak’s fear
that Ashkenazi will enter politics following his retirement from the army. Even
the two men’s close circles are said not to get along: IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen.
Avi Benayahu, for example, is persona non grata in the Defense Ministry due to
his bad ties with Barak’s bureau chief Yoni Koren.
Ashkenazi is scheduled
to step down in February 2011, after Barak decided in April not to extend his
term by a fifth year. At the time, Ashkenazi, 56, was said to be interested in
having his term extended by a year in light of the threats that Israel faced
from Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas.
A decision to extend his term would have
fit in with the general culture of recent appointments in the defense
establishment, particularly the government’s decision last year to extend the
tenure of Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director
Yuval Diskin, who are also expected to step down in 2011.
Barak met with OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi. On Friday, he will meet
OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant and OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi
Eizenkot. Next week, Barak is scheduled to meet with Deputy Chief of General
Benny Gantz and the IDF’s military attaché in Washington,
Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni.
One candidate said to have a good chance is
Galant, 51, a former commander of the navy’s elite commando unit Flotilla 13,
better known as the Shayetet. Galant is reportedly close to Barak and several of
his top associates, and therefore enjoys an advantage over some of the other
At the same time, the deputy chief of staff – in this case,
Gantz – also enjoys a slight advantage over the other contenders due to his
position as the natural successor and to his frequent participation in meetings
with the political echelon.