(photo credit: Courtesy)
While appointed amid controversy, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, tapped as the 20th IDF chief of General Staff, will make history when he takes up the post in February.
Galant, 51, will be the first chief of staff to come from the navy, which he joined in 1977 as a young commando in Flotilla 13, better known as the Shayetet. Galant completed naval officer training and commanded a missile ship. In between he took off time to travel, during which he worked as a lumberjack in Alaska.
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But Galant has already made history – as one of the first navy officers to turn in his white navy uniform for the greens of the regular army when he was appointed commander of the Jenin Brigade in 1993. He then returned to the navy to command the Shayetet, but then left the navy for good when he was appointed commander of the Gaza Division.
In 2001, he was appointed deputy head of the Ground Forces Command; a year later he received the rank of majorgeneral and began working alongside then-prime minister Ariel Sharon as his military secretary.
In 2005, just after the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Galant took over as head of the Southern Command.
A strong, charismatic commander with vast field and combat experience, Galant is respected throughout the IDF.
A recent highlight of his career was Operation Cast Lead in the winter of 2008/9, which he planned and directed.
While the operation sparked harsh international criticism, as demonstrated by the UN’s Goldstone Report, Galant can be credited with overseeing an operation that has fundamentally changed the reality along the border with the Gaza Strip. While rockets are occasionally still fired into Israel, there is today – some 20 months after the operation – unprecedented quiet in the South.
Galant’s detractors accuse him of becoming politicized during the period he spent as Sharon’s military secretary, noting the close ties he forged there with some of the prime minister’s other close associates such as Eyal Arad, the public relations consultant whose company’s logo appeared on the apparently forged “Galant Document.”
On the other hand, his experience there exposed him to the ins and outs of Israeli policy- making, familiarizing him with diplomatic and government mechanisms.
Operation Cast Lead also enhanced Galant’s position within the IDF. He insisted on visiting the Gaza Strip during the offensive and spent time with battalion and company commanders in the field.
His relations with Lt.-Gen.
Gabi Ashkenazi, the current chief of General Staff, were tense during Cast Lead, when the two reportedly clashed over whether to stop the operation.
Galant was in favor of pushing deeper into Gaza.
Ashkenazi was more hesitant and preferred not to overly pressure the government one way or another.
The tense relations continued following the operation, after Ashkenazi refused to appoint Galant as his deputy.