Analysis: No longer a sacred IDF

How is it that with the ME on the verge of upheaval, the country’s defense chiefs can’t get along to work together for just 2 more months?

Galant with flag 311 (photo credit: IDF)
Galant with flag 311
(photo credit: IDF)
February 1, 2011, will go down in history as a sad day for the Israel Defense Forces.
For an hour, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, the officer who had been appointed just a few months ago to serve as the IDF’s 20th chief of General Staff, sat in a television studio and gave an interview.
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Instead of discussing some of the important issues and challenges that the IDF is facing such as Iran’s nuclear program, Hizbullah’s military buildup in Lebanon and the ramifications of a potential regime change in Egypt, Galant spoke about the mistake he made in planting his olive trees seven meters away from one another instead of three meters and of building the entrance to his house to the north instead of to the south.
While there was importance in the legal process that preceded Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to cancel Galant’s appointment – which showed that all Israelis are equal before the law – it is sad to see what has happened to the IDF, an institution in Israeli ethos that is meant to be above all else, something that is almost sacred.
For the first time in history, the IDF will be left in two weeks without a permanent chief of staff. Under normal circumstances, the public could have expected the natural step – to extend Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s term by a few weeks – but that cannot happen due to the bad blood between him and Barak.
Israelis would be right to ask what has happened. How did two of the most important government officials get into a situation that they cannot stand sitting together in the same room and that their close associates bad-mouth one another almost daily? How is it that with the Middle East on the verge of a historic upheaval, the country’s defense chiefs can’t get along to work together for just two more months?
Responsibility rests not only on Barak and Ashkenazi but also on Galant. One former IDF general who is close to Galant said that his biggest mistake was his failure to apologize for the land scandal two years ago when it first came out in the press.
“Had he apologized then and fixed everything, it would never have come up now after his appointment,” the former general said.
The decision to annul Galant’s appointment is a major blow to Barak, who comes out looking bad for not getting the candidate he wanted as the next chief of staff. His sole comfort is in the permission he received from the attorney-general to appoint Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh as a temporary chief of staff and not to have to work with Ashkenazi for a day past February 14.
Over the past year, the IDF has been struck by a series of scandals. First was the so-called Galant Document, the paper forged by former IDF officer Boaz Harpaz that included a plan to get Galant appointed chief of staff. The public has yet to hear the end of this scandal. Harpaz is on the verge of being indicted and his attorneys have asked to see the evidence against their client, some of which includes transcripts from the interrogations of generals and could be embarrassing for the IDF.
It is still not clear who worked together with Harpaz, the alleged forger of the document. On Tuesday night, Galant said that he believed the document will one day take upon itself a new name but did not specify. He might have been referring to Ashkenazi, whose involvement in the document has yet to be clarified. One explanation that would be interesting to hear is for the dozens of SMS text messages Ashkenazi’s wife Ronit allegedly exchanged with Harpaz in the months before the document came out.
But there is also another lesson that the government could take away from the Galant affair regarding the process through which senior IDF officers are appointed to their posts in the IDF.
In comparison to the United States, where the appointment of top generals is confirmed by the Senate, here in Israel the process begins and ends with the defense minister without any real oversight. The appointment of a chief of staff needs to be approved by the cabinet, but there has never been a case where the candidate brought before the cabinet by the defense minister was not approved.
Whoever is finally appointed as chief of staff will have to add one more mission to an already busy agenda – restoring the IDF’s image.