(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ahead of Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza two winters ago, the IDF drew
up a day-byday schedule of action – detailing the areas to concentrate forces
and the specific targets to be hit. Divided into phases, the planned onslaught,
if implemented in full, would have seen the IDF reconquer the Gaza Strip, ending
Hamas’s rule and putting Israel fully back in charge of the area it had left in
2005, vowing never to return.
The campaign had been structured so that
the approval of the political leadership was required in order to move from one
major phase to the next. In briefings in the early days of the operation, senior
IDF officials made plain that the army was acting precisely as planned in that
daily schedule. As the operation intensified and time passed, however, it became
clear that the IDF was being hamstrung by the politicians, who were dithering
over whether to expand the campaign – to move on to the next major
It had not been anticipated that Hamas would surrender, but it had
been hoped that Hamas could be shown to be defeated even without the IDF
recapturing the entire Strip. In the end, the operation was halted well short of
an IDF takeover of Gaza, without any dramatic or symbolic sign of Hamas defeat
and without a guaranteed mechanism for preventing Hamas rearming, but with Hamas
and its supporters largely deterred from firing rockets into Israel
The man with ultimate responsibility for the IDF’s performance in
Operation Cast Lead was the chief of General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. The man who
directly oversaw the operation was Yoav Galant, the OC Southern Command who was
chosen this week by Defense Minister Ehud Barak as the next chief of General
Staff and is scheduled to replace Ashkenazi in February.
process has been clouded by the “Galant affair,” involving a document advancing
Galant’s candidacy and appearing to spell out tactics for smearing the other
candidates. The affair has complicated relationships at the top of the IDF
hierarchy, although a police investigation has indicated that Barak, Ashkenazi,
Galant and his rivals had nothing to do with the document.
decision to name Galant on Sunday, almost immediately after the attorney-general
ruled that the selection process could resume, underlined the defense minister’s
strong preference for the 51-year-old general.
And there have been
suggestions that this preference stems from what Barak sees as a stark contrast
between the performances and attitudes of Ashkenazi and Galant as exemplified in
Cast Lead, though it is far from clear that this had any relevance to the course
of the Gaza operation.
Barak, himself a former chief of staff, reportedly
considers Ashkenazi to be overly reluctant to steer the political echelon.
Galant, by contrast, is said to be regarded by Barak as more outspoken and more
confident – a military leader more in the defense minister’s own
There have also been some vaguer suggestions that Ashkenazi has
taken a highly cautious line, differing somewhat from Barak and Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu, on the use of military force as a last resort in thwarting
Iran’s nuclear drive.
CHARACTERISTICALLY, ASHKENAZI was quick to welcome
Galant’s appointment and to pledge his full cooperation with his successor, even
though the selection a full six months before his scheduled departure plainly
complicates Ashkenazi’s final period in office. It will be hard for him to make
decisions of long-term importance for the IDF, including but not limited to key
appointments, with Galant looking over his shoulder.
appointment of Galant – whose promotion is set to be approved by the cabinet on
Sunday – also leaves the defense minister and his chosen commander at risk,
should the “Galant affair” yet come back to bite them.
unfortunately rather ugly transition at the IDF helm unfolds, however,
not lose sight of Ashkenazi’s vital role in rehabilitating the IDF,
inherited at a low point after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Determinedly
without fuss, he confronted flaws in organization, training and
bolstering the IDF’s capabilities, motivation and confidence.
challenged by Iran and its proxies to north and south, Hizbullah and
respectively; with security in the West Bank a constant concern; and
regional players always capable of posing threats to Israel’s
IDF cannot afford to lower its guard. Israel’s enemies may think they
weakness in the unseemly controversy that has engulfed the IDF in recent
A professional, effective transfer of authority at the helm is the most
effective way of dispelling that dangerous notion.