Jeff Barak headshot 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The heightened interest in today’s changeover of the IDF chief of General Staff
reflects more the low standing of the country’s political leaders than any
sudden change in the role of the army in society.
Indeed, there are many
who suspect that Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s unseemly antagonism toward
outgoing Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is driven by envy of his popularity among the
While both men have been responsible for the IDF’s
transformation in terms of training and sense of preparedness since its
disappointing performance in the Second Lebanon War four years ago, only
Ashkenazi has received credit for this turnaround.
Even when Ashkenazi
made a serious error of judgment – such as in his handling of the Harpaz
document, which he should have brought to Barak’s attention immediately rather
than sticking it away in a drawer so that it could be later produced at an
opportune moment – the public has been quick to forgive, preferring instead to
cast Barak in the role of inept schemer. It will be interesting to see whether a
new book scheduled for release this week, which claims that the links between
Ashkenazi and Harpaz are closer than previously thought, will change this
But Barak, of course, has brought this upon
His political second coming has been an unmitigated disaster,
the roots of which lie in his antidemocratic decision two years ago to join
Binyamin Netanyahu’s government despite Labor’s humiliation at the polls and the
extreme right-wing make up of Netanyahu’s other coalition partners. Even though
Barak has now left Labor, it is unclear whether the party will ever be able to
lift itself out of the depths into which he pushed it.
BARAK, THOUGH, has
not acted alone. He has been supported and backed up all along by Netanyahu, who
even went to the extraordinary lengths of granting Barak’s five-member breakaway
faction – as great a collection of political nonentities as has ever graced our
political life – a jaw-dropping bounty of four ministerial posts and a Knesset
As the Hebrew expression goes “the fish stinks
from the head,” and Netanyahu, as prime minister, bears a heavy responsibility
for the shenanigans that have surrounded the appointment of the 20th chief of
General Staff. Agreeing to Barak’s desire to turn Ashkenazi into a lame duck for
the last six months of his tenure by naming a new chief at an unnecessarily
early stage, Netanyahu then rode roughshod over the concerns surrounding the
real-estate skeleton in Yoav Galant’s closet and forced a cabinet vote on the
Once it became clear to even Barak and Netanyahu (neither of whom
is noted for his sensitivity to the norms of public behavior expected from
senior officials) that Galant’s position was untenable, they then first
attempted to foist an unworkable solution on the army in the form of a temporary
chief of General Staff rather than ask Ashkenazi to extend his term. Belatedly,
they came to their senses, but at the cost of having Maj.-Gen.
Gantz’s promotion being greeted more with a sense of relief that the
distractions of the past few months are behind us, rather than a feeling that
the best man has been chosen for the job.
GIVEN THE irresponsibility
shown by our leaders during his appointment process, Gantz bears a heavier
burden than most incoming IDF commanders. He needs to quickly impose his
leadership on his battered General Staff colleagues, who have suffered the
collateral damage of the inept changeover process, and project his vision for
the IDF down through the ranks.
This would be difficult enough in normal
times but these, following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, are certainly not
Netanyahu, rather than distance the country from the events
in Tahrir Square, recklessly inserted it into the domestic Egyptian political
argument at the beginning of the Cairo revolution.
statements (another Netanyahu specialty) concerning the prospect of a “second
Iran” on our southern border, and his call to Western leaders to take action to
dampen the shocks of the Egyptian protest movement unnecessarily placed us on
the side of a despised dictator.
While Israel has to acknowledge
Mubarak’s immense contribution to ensuring stability in the Middle East and the
peace treaty between the two countries, it is not for Jerusalem to make demands
concerning the internal political developments in another country. And anyway,
the move against Mubarak was not spurred by the religious fanaticism Netanyahu
so fears, but more by an economic reality in which a tiny elite, buoyed by its
closeness to political power, controls the riches of an entire country,
condemning the masses to a life of poverty and hardship.
In fact, if
Netanyahu was truly serious about Middle East stability, he would have done more
in his two years in office toward seeking an agreement with the Palestinian
Authority and a peace deal with Syria’s President Bashar Assad.
only hope and pray that the IDF, under the new leadership of Benny Gantz, will
not have to pay the price of this inaction on the diplomatic front.The
writer is a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post.