Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara approved Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s request to appoint a new IDF chief during election season on the basis of national security considerations, despite Likud party objections.
Baharav-Miara said on Thursday that the appointment “presented legal difficulties,” but that the alternatives were sub-optimal, and that there was no bright-line prohibition against such appointments, given the potential harm to national security.
She had hinted on July 5 she would rule in this direction, saying an election does not always freeze appointments. Past speeches by other attorneys-general placed greater emphasis on appointing anyone during an election season as being problematic for transitional governments.
Though Baharav-Miara mentioned this issue as well, she explained that there was no blanket prohibition on election season appointments, especially if there was a national security need.
On Thursday, she said that next year presented major security challenges that could not wait to be addressed by delaying the appointment process.
She also noted that the IDF chief has more independence than other appointments, making it less open to politicization, and that only a small number of major-generals could be considered candidates for the role, which also reduced the risk of politicization.
Previously, she said she would not be pressured by “alien [problematic] considerations” in her decision, a veiled push back against threats by Likud members to fire her if they regain control of the government after the November 1 election.
Coalition backs A-G, opposition attacks
Prime Minister Yair Lapid had backed Baharav-Miara following the latest threats to fire her from various Likud members.
Likud MKs Yoav Kisch and Shlomo Yarhi both attacked Baharav-Miara for not rejecting Gantz’s request outright.
Kisch said that Baharav-Miara would be fired by a new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu if she dared to approve Gantz’s request, which, he said, would show she was taking a clear political position.
Yarhi said Likud would fire her no matter what she decided, as they would seek to fire all of the current government’s appointees, viewing the current government as illegitimate since it was not led by Netanyahu, whose Likud won most seats.
“He was sure that the legal establishment would continue to act professionally, objectively and put the interests of the state first, as it has done until now,” said Lapid.
Sa’ar had already called Kisch’s threat “gangsterism.”
"When we talk about double standards, this what we're referring to," said Likud MK Ofir Akunis, "the stances of the current attorney-general are completely against the stances of the previous one, who wholly opposed governments making any appointments."
Previous legal opinion
Defense Ministry Legal Adviser Itai Ofir previously sent Baharav-Miara his legal opinion stating that Gantz can appoint a new IDF chief of staff even with elections on the horizon.
Ofir’s opinion gave a classified survey of the security challenges confronting the country, which he said will be exacerbated if selecting a new chief is delayed.
The attorney-general said in June that she would need more details from the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser before deciding.
On one hand, appointments during election season were discouraged, she said, but appointments were not banned across the board in cases of necessity.
The three leading candidates are IDF deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, former IDF deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, and former IDF Ground Forces head Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick.
Halevi is reportedly the leading candidate, but some on the Right prefer Zamir, who was helped up the chain of command by Netanyahu when he was still prime minister, and for whom he had worked as his personal military secretary.
Defense Minister Gantz welcomed what he called a “responsible decision,” saying that the appointment of a chief of staff to replace Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi “is of great importance in terms of the IDF’s continuity of command and the security of the State of Israel. Israel currently has an excellent chief of staff, and Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi will continue to fulfill his role and lead the IDF with quality, as he has done to date.”
Gantz added that the process to choose the next top military officer will be done “on time and in an orderly process. I will continue to conduct the process in an orderly, stately manner and free from any political consideration, and in consultation with all relevant parties. All of this is based on a broad view of the security needs and the challenges facing the State of Israel.