Gantz can appoint new IDF chief despite elections, DM lawyer tells A-G

This opinion gives a classified survey of the security challenges confronting the country, which he said will be exacerbated if selecting a new chief is delayed.

 IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar on April 24, 2022 (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar on April 24, 2022
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)

Defense Ministry legal adviser Itai Ofir on Sunday sent Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara his legal opinion stating that Defense Minister Benny Gantz can appoint a new IDF chief of staff even with elections on the horizon.

Ofir’s opinion gives a classified survey of the security challenges confronting the country, which he said would be exacerbated if selecting a new chief is delayed.

Various national security figures have also written in support of making the selection on the basis that the upcoming elections may not lead to a new government before the January 1 end date to current IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi’s term. They say time is needed to allow a normal transition period between the chiefs or that a new chief is needed soon to pick a new deputy chief to take over various day-to-day operations.

Attorney-general's view

In late June, the attorney-general said she would need more details from the Defense Ministry's legal adviser before deciding the issue.

On one hand, appointments during election season were discouraged, she said. On the other hand, they were not banned across the board, and there could be exceptions that meet a standard of the state having a necessity.

 IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visits the scene of the fatal terror attack which claimed the life of Yehuda Dimentman on Thursday, December 16, 2021. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE) IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visits the scene of the fatal terror attack which claimed the life of Yehuda Dimentman on Thursday, December 16, 2021. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)

Baharav-Miara said that the legal adviser would need to specify why Gantz views appointing a new IDF chief of staff as necessary.

In addition, the issue could be influenced by the fact that the process was already far along before the government formally dispersed last week.

Traditionally, election season appointments are discouraged so as to avoid politicization, real or perceived.

Likud MK Yoav Kisch responded to the Defense Ministry opinion, saying that permitting the new appointment for a transitional government would be a blatant power grab.

He said that only someone who was taking political sides would make such an appointment and threatened to have Baharav-Miara removed if she did so.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar responded to Kisch, labeling his threats “gangsterism.”

Gantz has responded to criticism regarding the appointments process by saying that he was not trying to race against time to make an inappropriate appointment. Rather, he said his appointment process was proper and comprehensive and was a “vital strategic, security and organizational interest of the highest level.”

He also said he would consult with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu about the appointment before making a decision.

The defense minister has told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that he would move aggressively forward soon to appoint a new IDF chief to avoid the process being held hostage by politics.

“We have a great IDF chief of staff... but he is finishing in six months,” he said. “To maintain stability, we need to appoint a new IDF chief of staff” soon, as well as to allow him to promptly select his own new deputy.

“There are great and professional candidates for the IDF chief of staff position, and I am consulting with the prime minister,” about the appointment, he said.

“Any attempt to color the decision as political is false and harms the basis of our power. I call on all rivals to leave the IDF outside of the fires of politics.”

“Any attempt to color the decision as political is false and harms the basis of our power. I call on all rivals to leave the IDF outside of the fires of politics.”

Benny Gantz

Gantz said the IDF would not be in a position where it had to have a “temporary acting chief of staff. I will not let happen to the IDF like what happened to the police for two years,” where the politicians could not agree on a new permanent chief and a weaker acting chief ran things on a temporary basis.

The three lead candidates are current IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, former IDF deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir and former IDF Northern Commander Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick.

Halevi is reportedly the lead candidate, but some on the Right prefer Zamir, who was helped to move up the chain of command by Netanyahu when he was still prime minister and who had worked for him as his personal military secretary.

With elections on the horizon, Gantz knew he might run into some legal obstacles to get the appointment through during a transitional government.

However, by starting the process before elections start, he hoped to strengthen his argument that allowing the appointment to go through is just government business as usual, not election-period politicking.

Yoav Kisch's reaction

Likud MK Yoav Kisch responded to the Defense Ministry's opinion, saying that permitting the new appointment for a transitional government would be a blatant power grab.

He said that only someone who was taking political sides would make such an appointment and threatened to have Baharav-Miara removed if she did so.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar responded to Kisch, labeling his threats "gangsterism."