Military Politics: The plot thickens

The scandal over the ‘Galant Letter’ is just the latest in a long line of dirty battles between generals and their supporters that has sullied the race to the top job in the IDF.

Galant 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Galant 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
To become chief of General Staff of the Israeli army, a general must prove that he can overcome obstacles, outsmart his enemy, and win tough tactical skirmishes.
And that’s just on the political battlefield.
The military qualifications necessary to be chief of General Staff are immense, but – for better or for worse – politics have more often than not been what has decided the fate of the IDF’s top job.
Current chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gabi Ashkenazi, who finishes his term in February, has made an effort to keep a low profile and steer clear of politics.
But the appointment of a general known for his professionalism and aversion to politics and the press was itself a political statement by then-defense minister Amir Peretz, whose credibility in the post was questioned.
The history of battles among generals in Israel is almost as storied as that of their battles against the enemies of the Jewish state. Just five years ago, then prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz as the first CGS from the Air Force. The appointment raised eyebrows at the time and was seen as connected to Halutz’s support for the Gaza Strip disengagement and his friendship with Sharon’s family.
Current Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon, who was forced out early to make way for Halutz, did not hide his bitterness at Sharon and then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz.
“I was once asked why I continue to wear boots in the kiriya [Tel Aviv IDF headquarters],? Ya’alon said in a memorable speech. “I answered that it is because of the snakes.”
Mofaz was given the CGS job over presumed front-running candidate Lt.- Gen. Matan Vilna’i by then-defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai (Likud) in 1998 in a move that was seen as taking revenge against the country’s elites.
Future prime ministers Sharon and Ehud Barak were outraged when they were not appointed CGS. Barak stayed in the army and received assurances that he would get the job next time, and he did. Sharon left for politics and never got the job.
Perhaps the dirtiest race for CGS came in 1987 when top candidate Dan Shomron was accused behind the scenes by his two predecessors in the post, Rafael Eitan and Moshe Levy, of being a closet homosexual and therefore susceptible to blackmail. Shomron became CGS only after he passed a lie detector test.
THE SCANDAL that broke last Friday night, casting a shadow over the current race for CGS, was only the latest tale of intrigue in the sullied history of competition for a post seen as an inevitable launching pad to a second career in politics.
And as more details came out over the past week, the more complex the story became.
A document revealed on Channel 2’s Ulpan Shishi newsmagazine appeared to indicate that communications strategist Eyal Arad was advising the front-running candidate for CGS, OC Southern Command Maj. Gen.
Yoav Galant. The document, containing the logo of Arad Communications, proposed a public relations campaign for Galant that would create a positive image for him and negative images for Ashkenazi and another CGS candidate, current deputy CGS Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz. The document suggested promoting Gantz in the media as a replacement for outgoing Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin or Mossad chief Meir Dagan, recommended ways to deal with potential opposition to Galant’s appointment by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and highlighted differences between Galant and Ashkenazi on Operation Cast Lead.
For Ashkenazi, the document’s author advised “developing a profile of a disgruntled [public official],” like former foreign minister David Levy and as someone who tends to take offense easily.
Newspaper headlines had already made the negative Ashkenazi-Levy comparison on Friday morning.
The scandal brought to the surface ongoing fights between Galant and Ashkenazi, Ashkenazi and Barak, and among aides to the defense minister and CGS. All along, Arad has denied any connection to the affair, despite past business connections and current friendships with the episode’s protagonists.
The Ashkenazi-Galant dispute began as a battle over credit for the successes of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and continued with a fight over who would be Ashkenazi’s deputy. Barak wanted Galant in the post but Ashkenazi vetoed the appointment and wanted OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen.
Gadi Eisencott, before Gantz got the job as a compromise candidate.
Reports this week revealed that in closed conversations, Ashkenazi had said that Galant was “corrupted” during his time as Sharon’s military aide, because he spent too much time with politicians, reporters, and image consultants like Arad.
The Barak-Ashkenazi fight came to light with the dispute over Ashkenazi’s deputy and intensified after Channel 1 falsely reported that Barak was considering letting Ashkenazi stay on for an extra year, due to the Iranian threat.
The fierce denial of the report by Barak’s office and the question of who leaked the story to Channel 1 simmered tensions between the defense minister and Ashkenazi and between Barak’s bureau chief Yoni Koren and IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu.
Galant has been friends with Koren for decades, going back to their days in the Tzofim youth movement in Ramat Gan. Benayahu once worked for Arad, who was once business partners with Koren, who is reportedly close to Arad’s current business partner, Lior Chorev.
Arad has maintained that he has not met with Galant since the time they both advised Sharon, but he did admit that he called him two years ago when he needed help in getting his son into a particular IDF unit.
The scandal has delayed the appointment of a CGS, which Barak had insisted on making in the next month, despite the fact that Ashkenazi is only due to leave the post in February 2011.
Fingers are now pointed in all directions.
Proponents of the straightforward theory believe that Galant, Barak or Koren drafted the document together with a member of Arad’s staff. Advocates of the opposite approach think that someone like Benayahu conspired with other enemies of Barak like his former bureau chief Eldad Yaniv and framed Arad and Galant in the process.
Then there are the possibilities that a rival image consultant drafted and leaked the document to Channel 2 to harm Arad or that a right-wing activist initiated the entire episode to avenge the disengagement and the role played in it by Galant and Arad. Police have been keeping leads in the investigation close to their chest and any leaks have been firmly denied. According to one report, the probe could take up to two months while another said it would be wrapped up much quicker.
No matter how long it takes and no matter who ends up getting implicated in the scandal, the scandal will always be remembered for how Ashkenazi’s replacement got his job. And whoever the new CGS will be, there is no doubt that he will already be a survivor on the political battlefield.