Barak criticized over expedited army chief nomination

Knesset seeks to tighten oversight of senior IDF assignments.

311_Barak in Knesset (photo credit: Courtesy)
311_Barak in Knesset
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Politicians from across the political spectrum praised the selection of OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant as the next IDF chief of General Staff on Sunday, while criticizing Defense Minister Ehud Barak for hurrying to make the appointment six months before the current chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, finishes his term.
The only minister who criticized the appointment at Sunday’s cabinet meeting was Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon, whose tenure as chief of General Staff was cut short by prime minister Ariel Sharon when Galant was Sharon’s military attaché. But even Ya’alon made a point of criticizing only Barak and not Galant.
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“At the present moment, with all that is occurring around the appointment, in which much has yet to be revealed, I advise not to rush” in bringing any decision to the cabinet for approval, Ya’alon said.
His remarks came in reference to the allegedly forged “Galant Document,” which gave the impression that Galant had hired a strategist to help him become chief of General Staff.
Down the street from the cabinet meeting, the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee also met on Sunday, in an emergency session to discuss the Galant Document’s leak and the high level of tension prevalent among senior members of the security echelon.
The meeting’s original intent was somewhat overshadowed by Barak’s announcement. The Knesset committee’s members were uncharacteristically bipartisan in their call to repair relations in the IDF’s highest ranks and congratulated Galant – often, though, while echoing Ya’alon’s criticism of Barak.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin participated in the special session, telling MKs that “there are subjects that the Knesset cannot simply ignore. The disconnect among figures in Israel’s security forces seriously harms the public’s faith in those who guarantee its security, and the Knesset is obligated to bring about an end to this disconnect.
“The IDF must be freed from politics, and it must not court political leaders through lobbying services, which will bring about incorrect appointments stemming from extraneous considerations,” Rivlin continued.
“Our goal is for politics to be similar to the IDF, and not for the IDF to be similar to politics.”
Former defense minister Amir Peretz, who appointed Ashkenazi in 2007, said he made a point of uniting the General Staff behind Ashkenazi’s appointment before he announced it.
He said that when he handed over the Defense Ministry to Barak, the generals were united and cooperating, while now they are divided and fighting.
“I called upon Barak weeks ago to wait with the appointment, because an excessive overlap for the chiefs of General Staff causes unnecessary tension,” Peretz said. “This became even more true after the Galant Document scandal erupted.
“But now that the decision has been made to appoint Galant, for whom I have the utmost respect, we all now have to do everything to support him and ensure that the IDF is run as well as possible.”
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson welcomed Barak’s recommendation, but also criticized the defense minister’s handling of the transition.
“Ehud Barak has succeeded in choosing the next chief of staff and has appointed a suitable man and an outstanding commander who will be capable of continuing to move the IDF through successful operations,” Hasson said. “At the same time, Barak has failed in the process of the appointment and caused the IDF significant damage.”
National Union MK Arye Eldad added that Barak’s timing was problematic because Galant could still be found to have played a role in the scandal over the document.
“The defense minister’s political thievery will harm the public’s trust in both the current and next chief of General Staff,” Eldad said.
Hasson reiterated calls by a number of lawmakers, including fellow Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, chairman of the Subcommittee for Defense Oversight, for the “Knesset to make a decision, in light of the ‘Barak precedent,’ regarding the way in which the next chief of General Staff is selected.”
Schneller’s subcommittee is expected to begin discussing a secret report on senior IDF appointments in the coming weeks.
MK Nahman Shai (Kadima), a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, called for that report to be expanded to include the process of appointing chiefs of General Staff.
“Alongside the congratulations that Maj.-Gen. Galant deserves, everyone, including the defense minister must remember that the police investigation into this matter has not yet concluded and we should wait until it does. The defense minister is needlessly rushing,” Shai said.
“In any case, the chain of events that accompanied the selection of the new chief of General Staff cannot be ignored,” he said, adding that the government must “ask State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to expand the probe that he is currently undertaking into the appointments of generals in the IDF to also include chiefs of General Staff.”
In a similar vein, MK Danny Danon (Likud) proposed over the weekend a bill that would change the selection process for the heads of all the security services, by mandating that all candidates sit for a closed-door hearing with the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and would have the already-powerful committee the authority to approve or reject the appointment made by the defense minister.
“Barak’s behavior toward the chief of General Staff and the culture of undercutting that was revealed to all of us, emphasized that the selection of the chief of General Staff must not be continued in the same way it is done today,” Danon said. “The country’s security must not be influenced by a defense minister who tries to take advantage of the power that he has in order to solidify his image in the public’s eyes, as well as his own ego.
“We as a society must demand clean governance in all processes of appointing senior security officials.
The Knesset, which represents the public, must oversee the process and in doing so, we may succeed in removing negative politicization from processes that must be as clean as possible,” Danon said.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.