Analysis: Explaining the commotion around Gantz's appointment

A slow news week, the hint of a scandal,and the IDF's total lack of transparency.

gantz 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
gantz 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
There are a few explanations for the unprecedented media commotion surrounding the appointment of Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz as the next deputy chief of the General Staff. One explanation for the three pages the tabloids devoted to the story - accompanied by analysis, commentary and full-page photos - is that it was a quiet news weekend and there was not much else to report. The second and most natural explanation, though, is that the appointment of the deputy chief of General Staff really is a major news story. This thinking is based on the idea that since so many Israelis serve in the military, the public is deeply interested in what happens inside the IDF. The appointment of the army's No. 2 as well as the gossip that goes with it and the possible resignation of a disgruntled general - in this case OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant - is therefore a perfect story for the public. If you were wondering, by the way, the vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff is a Marine Corps general named James E. "Hoss" Cartwright. In the United Kingdom, the deputy chief of the Defense Staff is Gen. Sir John Nicholas Reynolds "Nick" Houghton. It is doubtful that a majority of Americans or Britons are familiar with these men. It is questionable here, too, how many people really are interested in Gantz's appointment. While it is a senior post, it is not the chief of General Staff. As an example, the current deputy, Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel, is barely known to the public and has held only one press conference in his two years in the position. Sunday's media tumult joins the Brig.-Gen. Moshe "Chico" Tamir story and the frontpage headlines that the Hebrew tabloids devoted to it last month. As with Galant now, then too the public was made to believe that if Tamir - who was demoted to the rank of colonel for permitting his underage son to drive an IDF dune buggy and attempting to cover up a subsequent accident - would retire it would be severely detrimental to the IDF. In both cases, the message is the same - that the army stands a chance of losing an exemplary officer. The media commotion surrounding these stories, including quotes from "close associates," creates an impression that if Galant and Tamir were to leave, the IDF would not be the same. This, of course, is a ridiculous notion since the army is not dependent on one or two officers, no matter how talented and skilled they are. In contrast to the United States, where generals need to be confirmed by the Senate, in Israel the defense minister and the chief of General Staff decide on their own. "The IDF is one of the only organizations which does not have transparency and public supervision in its appointment process," Kadima MK Nachman Shai, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a former IDF spokesman, said Sunday. "We do not know what happens there and what the different interests are of the chief of staff and the defense minister," he said. For this reason, already last week, before Gantz's appointment was announced, Shai asked committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi, also from Kadima, to hold a session on this issue. Shai said Sunday that he did not want to create a confirmation process that would require hearings in the Knesset but did expect the committee to come up with an oversight mechanism. "This is the IDF," he said. "There are hundreds of thousands of soldiers in active service and hundreds of thousands more in the reserves. We need to know what is happening there."