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(photo credit: Associated Press)
Ask any senior IDF officer and the consensus is that Chief of Staff Dan Halutz is on the way out.
He might be talking about his plans for reform in the army and learning the lessons of the Lebanon War, but the advice he has received lately from trusted advisors is that in order to rescue what is left of his honor, he should wait for the last internal reports to be published - and after an interval of a few weeks, at the most a couple of months - decide the timing of his departure.
This will be presented as "handing over the IDF to a fresh pair of hands." Halutz doesn't want to be forced out of his command but he realizes that he is now a lame duck chief of staff.
The senior generals are already acting as if he has gone, allowing themselves unaccustomed independence within their own commands, safe in the knowledge that Halutz lacks the stature to overrule them.
As it is, he is much too busy dealing with the various inquiry teams to have time left over for overseeing the IDF's daily affairs. Halutz doesn't have the authority or credibility to decide on the firing of officers who performed badly during the war. He is sitting in a very fragile glass office as it is, and Defense Minister Amir Peretz has already overruled him regarding the last series of senior appointments.
The perennial promotion process is the lifeblood of the officers' corps, with the chief of staff at its heart. Now the circulation has stopped and there is a danger of the arteries clogging up. A transplant is urgently called for.
Halutz doesn't want to be seen as folding under the public pressure, what he sees as the wrong-headed reservists' protests and the initial reports of the teams he himself set up. After surviving the terrible three months following the war, he hoped that his stature would have been restored.
Peretz's credibility is also at an ebb and he isn't powerful enough to fire the chief of staff, but the possibility of a new defense minister is looming. Peretz is considering accepting a new title of super-minister for social affairs. The defense portfolio would then go to Kadima's Shaul Mofaz or perhaps even to the comeback kid Ehud Barak. Both have been chief of staff and defense minister in the not-too-distant past and they will lose no time in getting rid of Halutz and filling his place with their own appointee.
Even if Peretz remains, he still has to win the Labor leadership primaries in the first half of 2007. His leading rival, MK Ami Ayalon has made no secret of his desire to replace Peretz as defense minister. His recent severe criticism of the IDF's conduct during the war leaves little doubt as to his intentions toward the chief of staff. Another threat on Halutz's horizon is the Winograd Commission, the only team investigating the war that has the power to call for his resignation. The Winograd report will not be ready before mid-2007; Halutz can spare himself the humiliation by preempting its conclusion.
The hot names for Halutz's job are his current deputy Moshe Kaplinsky and former deputy chief of staff, current Defense Ministry Director-General Gabi Ashkenazy. Both are plain-speaking former Golani commanders, with political experience under their belts - Kaplinsky was former prime minister Ariel Sharon's military secretary - and unlike Halutz, will have no problem carrying out the long overdue firing of senior officers who failed during the war. The new leadership can then get on with the job of rebuilding the army for the next war.
Senior field commanders have been complaining ever since the war ended that instead of planning for the future, the entire high command is mired in the inquiries being carried out by various internal and external committees. The chorus of support from retired generals for resigning Galilee Division commander Brig.- Gen. Gal Hirsch was misleading. Many officers currently serving with him and therefore unable to voice their opinions feel that he had to go.
That doesn't mean that they agree with the Almog Report that damned him. Maj-Gen (res) Doron Almog investigated Hirsch's role in the July 12 Hizbullah attack in which Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were captured and eight soldiers were killed, and Almog recommended that Hirsch be disqualified from command. Many officers feel that in the July 12th incident Hirsch was scapegoated for the long-standing policy - coming from the top - that troops not get into border fights with Hizbullah. Instead, they feel that Hirsch should have paid the price for his failings in the subsequent battles throughout the war. Some of them even say that Halutz and Peretz should have replaced him during the fighting.
A pruning of the IDF's upper branches is unavoidable, but instead of a quick and efficient surgical operation, the army is being forced to undergo a long and humiliating period of trench warfare, taking fire from investigators, retired generals politicians and, of course, the media. The IDF will only break out of this quagmire after Halutz leaves.
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