The bombshell that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz dropped late Tuesday night has set off a tight race over which general will succeed him to become Israel's 19th chief of staff. There are three main candidates - Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, Defense Ministry Dir.-Gen. and former deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, and OC Ground Forces Command Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz - plus a wild card: a former general who is now outside the defense establishment.
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On Wednesday, Peretz met with the main three candidates and consulted with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, opposition leader MK Binyamin Netanyahu, and additional officials regarding viable candidates for the job. Defense officials said that Peretz plans to bring his candidate - after reaching an agreement with Olmert - to the cabinet for approval this coming Sunday.
After a candidate is chosen by the defense minister, he will need to be approved by a legal committee led by retired judge Yaacov Tirkil, which will be responsible for determining if the appointment presents a conflict of interest or any other legal tangle.
The frontrunner among potential successors is Ashkenazi, a well-respected officer who lost out to Halutz in the race for the top job in the summer of 2005.
If Olmert and Peretz are looking to clean the stables in the IDF with a new chief of staff, they might prefer to bring back into service a former general, like Ashkenazi, who did not play an active role in the war against Hizbullah.
His hands, senior officers told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday, "were not tainted" by the failures or the disappointing outcome of the war in Lebanon, and Ashkenazi also enjoys good relations with Peretz, who appointed him to his current post.
As a former Golani Brigade commander and head of the Northern Command, Ashkenazi has a great deal of experience and time in Lebanon under his belt, certainly an advantage for the next chief of staff, who will need to continue dealing with the fragile situation along Israel's northern border. On the other hand, Ashkenazi has been connected to previous failures in the IDF, including the abduction of three soldiers by Hizbullah in 2000 when he served as head of the Northern Command.
Kaplinsky, the current deputy chief of staff, is the apparent heir. Perceived as a capable infantry officer, Kaplinsky rose through the ranks of the Golani Brigade, which he eventually commanded, later becoming military attach for Ariel Sharon and OC Central Command.
Halutz, the Post has learned, has been pushing for Kaplinsky's appointment. He is an obvious choice, although his active participation in the war - he was sent to the Northern Command as Halutz's "representative" during the fighting to watch over regional commander Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam - has tainted him and may have ruined his chances at getting the appointment.
Referred to as "The Prince" in the IDF due to his meteoric climb through the ranks, Gantz, who has been named as next in line to become deputy chief of staff alongside Kaplinsky, is another potential candidate for the top job.
Gantz is a well-respected officer and served as commander of the Judea and Samaria Division until 2002, when he became OC Northern Command. In November 2005, he was appointed head of the Ground Forces Command. He met with Peretz on Wednesday and sources in the Defense Ministry said that he had the "lowest chance" at getting the job.
A Wild Card
Some military officials predicted Wednesday that Olmert and Peretz, who do not have a good working relationship, would have difficulty agreeing on a candidate from within the IDF.
This could bring in a wild card, possibly a retired general who was not involved in the war and who could command the authority needed to rehabilitate the IDF. Some names that have been touted are former generals Doron Almog, Shlomo Yanai and Ilan Biran.
Defense sources said that although the prospects of a former general getting the job were slim, a breakdown in talks between Olmert and Peretz could raise the chances.