IDF, Defense Ministry play down reports of tension

IDF denies 5th year for military chief considered; Barak: Claim “baseless."

ashkenazi GOOD 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
ashkenazi GOOD 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Defense Ministry officials and IDF officers tried Wednesday to downplay reports of growing tension between Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But no matter how hard they try, the reports persist.
The sour relations only came to light on Tuesday night with Channel 1’s exclusive report that “informal talks” were ongoing regarding whether Barak would decide to extend Ashkenazi’s tenure by a fifth year. The chief of staff will mark three years in the position next Sunday.
The report was met with a stiff denial from the Defense Ministry, with Barak’s spokesman Barak Seri issuing a statement accusing IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu of leaking the report to Channel 1.
Whether Benayahu, a known media wizard, was behind the report or not is inconsequential considering that the Barak duo’s statement blasted an IDF officer who just happens to be one of Ashkenazi’s closest advisers, leading many to believe that the real target was not the spokesman but the chief of staff himself.
The escalated tension has two sources.
The first has to do with bad blood between Benayahu and Barak’s new chief of staff, Lt.-Col. (res.) Yoni Koren. Koren took over the post from Shalom Kital, who stepped down in November in a surprise move. Koren is an old crony of Barak’s, and served as his bureau chief when he was chief of staff and foreign minister.
Before Koren moved into the 14th floor of the Defense Ministry, Barak’s office was full of problems. One example was in the appointment of a permanent coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT), a post that had been held on a temporary basis by Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad for more than a year.
Several months ago, Barak finally appointed his military secretary, Brig.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, to the job, but he only took up the post in November as it took Barak another few months to appoint a replacement for Dangot. Then, after almost everyone had left, Defense Ministry director-general Pinhas Buchris announced his resignation.
The decision to bring in Koren was aimed at making order in the office.Since his appointment, Koren has become the strongman in the DefenseMinistry and has refused to allow Benayahu to walk freely around the14th floor as he had been used to doing.
The second source of tension between Barak and Ashkenazi has to do withdisagreements they had regarding the appointment of Maj.-Gen. BennyGantz as the deputy chief of staff. Ashkenazi was in favor, at thetime, of appointing OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, afellow Golani Brigade soldier, to the post. Barak reportedly wanted OCSouthern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant. In the end, Gantz was thecompromise.