Gantz: I’ll be choosing next head of air force

IDF chief dismisses reports he is under pressure to appoint PM’s military adviser, Maj.-Gen. Yohanan Locker.

Benny Gantz 311 R (photo credit: Reuters)
Benny Gantz 311 R
(photo credit: Reuters)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz dismissed reports Monday that he is under pressure to appoint Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s military adviser, Maj.-Gen. Yohanan Locker, as the next commander of the Israel Air Force.
Gantz was responding to media reports claiming that the selection of the next IAF commander – to replace Maj.- Gen. Ido Nehushtan, who will step down in April – was out of his hands.
On Sunday, Gantz and Barak sparred on the issue at a meeting in the Knesset. Barak claimed that defense ministers should be involved in selecting the IAF commander, while Gantz said that the appointment was like any other general in the IDF and should be determined by the chief of staff.
“I have never been pressured and have never been spoken to about this,” Gantz said on Monday, during a military ceremony.
“I make the appointments in the IDF according to what I think is right. This is how it has always been and this is how it is now as well.”
In December, The Jerusalem Post reported that Barak and Netanyahu were trying to influence Gantz’s decision on the identity of Nehushtan’s successor and that it was possible that the candidate’s opinions on the viability of a strike against Iran was playing a role in the decision.
The leading contenders for the post are Locker and OC Planning Directorate Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel. Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Shefer, the current deputy commander of the air force, has also been interviewed for the post, but his chances are believed to be slim.
The appointment of a new air force chief traditionally makes headlines in Israel, but this time it is particularly intriguing due to the possibility that the next commander will be ordered by the government to oversee a strike on Iran’s well-protected and distant atomic infrastructure.
As a result, there is speculation that the next commander will be selected based on his opinions regarding the chances of such an attack’s success.
Eshel, who was deputy commander of the IAF from 2006 to 2008, is considered the front-runner. As head of the Planning Directorate, which is responsible for IDF’s external affairs, Eshel has developed close ties with the Pentagon and other militaries around the world.
Locker is also believed to have strong chances due to his close relationship with Netanyahu.
While the IDF chief of staff appoints members of the General Staff, the appointment needs to be approved by Barak, who has intervened recently in a number of key military appointments.
The Prime Minister’s Office rejected the reports and said Netanyahu had not spoken with Gantz about the appointment.