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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
No one can quite pinpoint what Defense Minister Ehud Barak has against IDF Chief
of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
It’s now being ventured that
Barak is leery of Ashkenazi criticizing him at the Turkel Commission, which is
investigating the Mavi Marmara incident.
If that’s the latest conjecture,
previous speculation had it that Barak detects political potential in Ashkenazi,
fearing he might enter the Labor Party fray after his military service concludes
and after the mandatory cooling-off period. As such, he’d become Barak’s most
potent competitor – although certainly not in the immediate
There’s no tangible evidence to back up such
What is certain is that Barak is heading a deeply divided
Labor party in which he enjoys decreasing personal support, that Labor is in
steep decline and that Barak evinces undisguised animus toward
Unfortunately, Barak supplies conspiracy-theory-mongers with
too much cause for chatter. Ashkenazi’s term has six-and-a-half more months to
run. Changes at the top of the IDF hierarchy were never decorous. Yet Barak
seems intent on turning them into an outright circus.
THERE’S NO reason
to prematurely kick the race to succeed Ashkenazi into highest gear. We aren’t
naïve. We know that ambitious generals are already vying.
the contest is formally declared and when the defense minister eggs the runners
on, the rivalry is bound to get more confrontational. Relations among the IDF
top brass are likely to become even less harmonious.
We know that Barak
knows this. When Barak himself commanded the IDF, he insisted that the identity
of his successor (Amnon Lipkin-Shahak) not be announced until almost the last
moment (though it was no secret).
Barak made sure his own status wouldn’t
Therefore, Barak cannot be unaware of what he has been putting
It began months ago with leaks from Barak’s bureau to
the effect that Ashkenazi had demanded an additional fifth year in office.
Though Ashkenazi denied this, and though no evidence exists to support these
claims, Barak took the extraordinary step of embarrassing Ashkenazi by formally
announcing that the latter’s term wouldn’t be extended. This was entirely
superfluous, but Ashkenazi maintained stoic silence.
Now comes another
official announcement that Barak has begun interviewing Ashkenazi’s would-be
successors (the smart money is on Yoav Gallant, OC Southern Command, presumed to
be Barak’s favorite). These interviews – largely ritual – should at most take a
day. There’s no rush to conduct them and even less rush to proclaim
This is so uncalled for that it inspires extreme hypotheses about
Barak trying to force Ashkenazi to resign early.
From Barak’s entourage
come vague, unsubstantiated allegations that Ashkenazi undermines his civilian
The two men clearly aren’t bosom buddies. Their differences of
opinion have been branded in the media as outright “bad blood.” However, a sign
of maturity is to accept that disagreements are inevitable in decision-making
forums, especially at the highest echelons and even more so with some of the
most vital national security interests at stake.
shouldn’t allow divergences of views to fester into personal enmity. The
higher-ranking Barak can strive harder to at least keep up the appearance of
being a team player. As the minister with direct authority over Ashkenazi, it
behooves Barak to be the bigger man and exhibit proper patience and prudence.
Barak plainly fails to do so.
If Barak wishes to strike a macho pose, he
achieves the reverse. He comes off as petty and cantankerous. If it weren’t so
harmful, it’d be merely farcical.
Juvenile petulance is insufferable. The
events of recent days accentuate the looming potential peril for Israel – the
rockets fired in the South at Ashkelon, Sderot and Eilat; the lethal gunfire on
the Lebanese border; suggestions in some quarters that a third intifada may be
unleashed in response to a possible restart of direct Israel-PA negotiations;
more flotillas that may attempt to reach Gaza; and the threat of Iranian nukes
that hangs over us.
It is dangerously irresponsible to portray Israel’s
No. 1 soldier as a wobbly lame duck when this habitually beleaguered country
faces existential challenges, perhaps the gravest since 1948. Small-mindedness
is always undesirable, but it’s all the more so at this time of escalating