Analysis: Barak shows who’s boss

Is it ploy to oust Ashkenazi before end of term?

Barak 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Barak 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak made very clear on Sunday that he is the boss in the defense establishment and that while his announcement that OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant will be next IDF chief of General Staff might not go over well with the public, he just doesn’t care.
The big question Barak faced on Sunday was, why the rush? First, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is still in the job for another six months. Second, the police investigation into the so-called and apparently forged “Galant Document” is still not complete.
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The answer is likely to be found in the relationship between Ashkenazi and Barak. It is no longer a secret that ties between the two men are tense, even extremely tense. On Friday, Barak summoned Ashkenazi for a meeting that according to some testimonies lasted less than five minutes, and told him that he would not approve the recent round of senior IDF appointments but would leave them for the next chief of staff.
This slap in the face was just the preview for Barak’s announcement on Sunday that he had chosen Galant as the next chief of staff, effectively turning Ashkenazi into a lame duck for the remaining six months of his term.
Barak has already decided that Galant will make decisions regarding the appointments, but who will set the IDF’s multi-year work plan – Ashkenazi or Galant? Who will make operational decisions should war with Hizbullah or Hamas break out? Barak, some IDF officers speculated, was likely trying to push Ashkenazi out of the top military post by announcing his successor on Sunday.
Some of the chief of staff’s close associates will likely recommend that he announce an early resignation in order to prevent confusion at the top and to avoid more clashes with Barak, which will only make Ashkenazi look bad in light of his possible political ambitions.
On the other hand, by resigning early, Ashkenazi will be playing into Barak’s hands, something he likely does not want to do.
Barak has finally come full circle. While he has served as chief of staff, prime minister and defense minister, this is the first time he has chosen a chief of staff, a decision that many defense ministers believe to be one of the most significant marks they can leave on the defense establishment.
His associates tried to claim that the announcement was meant to stabilize the IDF and put the Galant Document fiasco behind everyone so they can focus on the real challenges and threats.
If that is the case, then Galant would be wise to approve the round of appointments to brigadier-general that Ashkenazi had already ruled on.
First, because the officers slated for promotion are worthy, and second because by approving Ashkenazi’s decisions he will stabilize the military and signal that he wants to cooperate with the current chief of staff and not knock heads.
Galant’s appointment as the next chief of staff also sends a message regarding the type of military Barak would like to see – one that is daring and willing to take the offensive.
Ashkenazi was often accused of being hesitant and wavering on critical issues like Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last year; he was very careful not to make a formal recommendation on the offensive before it began. He was quoted as often telling ministers that he could provide them with plans but they will need to be the ones to decide.
Galant, who is known for his confidence, was much more resolute in his belief that the IDF didn’t need to just occupy the entire Gaza Strip, but to stay there until it toppled the Hamas regime. His recommendation was not accepted, but it did make an impression on Barak, who is fond of courage and creativity from his days as an IDF commando.
The announcement that Galant is the next chief of staff is the opening shot in a round of appointments expected in the coming months, with the heads of the Mossad, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Military Intelligence slated to step down, not to mention the pending reshuffle within the IDF brass.
The identities of Israel’s defense chiefs are changing. But the threats remain the same.