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Defense Ministry director-general Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi was chosen Sunday night by Defense Minister Amir Peretz to become the IDF's 19th chief of General Staff, replacing Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, pending the cabinet's approval.
Following Peretz's decision, Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky - the other leading candidate - asked Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to drop his candidacy.
Finally, Golani Brigade is on top of heap
IDF sources said Kaplinsky had also submitted a letter to Peretz and Olmert before the announcement of Ashkenazi's appointment, citing concerns that the Winograd Committee would find him responsible for some of the failures of the Lebanon war and dropping his candidacy.
The sources said Kaplinsky plans to continue serving as deputy chief of General Staff.
"The Winograd Committee is, among other things, checking my performance during the war," Kaplinsky wrote in his letter. "Since you have decided to appoint a chief of General Staff in the coming days and not wait for the completion of the committee's work, I feel that it would not be right to take upon myself the job of chief of General Staff at this time."
Kaplinsky went on to say that he felt he was "right and ready" for the top job. "It is no secret or surprise that I want to become the next chief of General Staff," he wrote. "But I believe that the reality is far more complicated."
Peretz plans to present his recommendation to Olmert in a meeting the two have set for Monday, and will then bring the candidate's name for review by a judicial committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Ya'acov Terkel. The candidate will then be presented to the cabinet for final approval.
Ashkenazi, 52, was deputy chief of General Staff until 2005 and retired from the IDF after Halutz was appointed. He previously served as OC Northern Command, commander of the Golani Brigade and head of the IDF Operations Branch. During the recent war in Lebanon, he was called back into service as director-general of the Defense Ministry under Peretz. He will be the first chief of General Staff to have started his career in the Golani Brigade.
According to officials close to Peretz, the appointment will be finalized by the end of the week. The third serious contender for the post was OC Ground Forces Command Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz.
Olmert promised on Sunday that he would work together with Peretz to choose a new army chief, and praised Halutz for his long years of dedicated service.
"Lt.-Gen. Halutz has been one of the greatest and bravest warriors of Israel over the last 40 years. He was one of the greatest fighter pilots in air force history and led its fighters on its boldest missions," Olmert said.
"We will still find the way for the government of Israel and the State of Israel to thank him for his many years of service. From here and in the name of the government, I send him a warm embrace and deep appreciation."
Olmert and Peretz met Sunday with former minister Dan Meridor, the author of Israel's recently reformulated defense doctrine. Olmert also met with former chiefs of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Shomron and Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon.
Meridor proposed that Peretz and Olmert adopt a new system for choosing a chief of General Staff according to which candidates would have to commit to implement government policy, based on the defense budget and other parameters.
The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held its own consultations Sunday on who should be the next chief of General Staff.
"In the 58 years that the State of Israel has existed, there have been many army heads, defense ministers and prime ministers, but to this day we have not experienced such fanfare - from military experts, academics and politicians - around the nomination of a new chief of General Staff," said MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud). He said lawmakers should work together to help the prime minister choose a new IDF head.
Several MKs on the committee suggested that the appointment of the next IDF chief would be "highly political."
"The resignation of Halutz was very political and marks a new era for political involvement in the military," said one member of the committee. "I expect that the Knesset will try to have greater influence on Olmert's decision."
Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik said she would work to amend the Knesset bylaws to give the legislature a veto over the prime minister's choice for chief of General Staff. A spokesman in her office said Itzik would seek to speed up the legislative process to pass the bill as soon as possible.