Barak, ministry officials defend Ashkenazi decision

Sources close to IDF chief: Minister could still change his mind.

 Defense Ministry officials downplayed on Wednesday the significance of Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision not to extend IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s term by a fifth year, claiming that the move was not intended to insult the top army commander.
The officials also claimed that the statement about Barak’s decision had been coordinated with Ashkenazi, who had even approved its wording.
Officials close to Ashkenazi, however, claimed that the chief of staff had not approved the statement and that he had never asked for a fifth year in the first place.
Barak’s media adviser Barak Seri reportedly tried contacting IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu to coordinate the statement, but could not reach him. As a result, Seri said, the Defense Ministry had sent the statement directly to Ashkenazi’s office, where it was reviewed and returned several minutes later without any comments.
Nevertheless, officers close to Ashkenazi claimed Wednesday that Barak’s decision could still be overturned and that it was likely, due to the security threats and challenges that Israel faced, that Barak would ultimately decide to extend the IDF chief’s term.
“This is not the end of it, and Barak could still change his mind and decide to extend Ashkenazi’s term,” one officer said, referring to the government’s recent decisions to extend the terms of the Shin Bet and Mossad chiefs due to the security challenges facing the country.
Barak, however, appeared determined to follow through with his decision on Wednesday. During a visit to the North, Barak said that while Ashkenazi was one of the best chiefs of staff the IDF had ever had, it was necessary to replace him after four years.
“I have complete faith in the chief of staff and appreciate his contribution to rebuilding the IDF following the Second Lebanon War,” Barak said. “As someone who served as chief of staff and is now defense minister for a second time, I know that replacing the chief of staff every four years is the natural and correct thing to do. Under the circumstances that were created, it was necessary to announce that the chief of staff would finish his term after four years.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also weighed in on the matter, saying that Ashkenazi’s replacement would pave the way for the formation of a new top military brass.
“Sometimes there are those who receive an extension, but we know that every organization needs to refresh and renew itself,” Netanyahu said.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i said Wednesday that Barak had been correct in issuing the statement.
“Iwasn’t surprised by the defense minister’s statement and think thatwhat he did was in line with proper procedure,” Vilna’i said during atour of a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv.
Calling Ashkenazi an“excellent chief of staff,” Vilna’i, who was once a leading candidateto become chief of staff but lost to Shaul Mofaz, said there wereworthy candidates to replace him.
“As long as Ashkenazi issitting in his seat, the people of Israel can be relaxed,” Vilna’isaid. “Barak is also an excellent defense minister and is someone wecan count on. There is also tension and gossip surrounding this, butthat is not what is important.”