Peretz set to bid farewell, IDF warily awaits new minister

Peretz will wrap up just over a year at the Defense Ministry on Monday when the Labor Party goes to primaries.

peretz and ashkenazi 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
peretz and ashkenazi 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF and Defense Ministry are keeping a close eye on the results of Monday's Labor Party primaries to see who will become the next defense minister and succeed Amir Peretz. Peretz will wrap up just over a year at the Defense Ministry on Monday when the Labor Party goes to primaries. Peretz, who is well behind in polls but is convinced he will win the election, has already announced than even if he emerges as the victor, he will leave his current post and demand the Finance portfolio from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But with polls against Peretz, the big question for the IDF and the entire defense establishment is which of the two leading candidates will win - Ehud Barak or Ami Ayalon, who unlike Peretz are both former generals. Barak is a former prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff. Ayalon is a former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and a former commander of the Navy. According to senior officials in the Defense Ministry, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is anxiously waiting to see who will become the next defense minister and is aware that if it is Ayalon or Barak, his standing as Israel's number one defense official will decline. "Ashkenazi has gotten used to being the top defense official surrounded by Olmert and Peretz, who are both civilians," one official explained. "With Barak and Ayalon that will no longer be the case." Following the Second Lebanon War, Peretz on numerous occasions declared that the changes the IDF underwent - a return to basics with renewed training and an increase in the defense budget - were to his credit. This was demonstrated clearly in his testimony before the Winograd Committee, when Peretz was asked what mistakes he made during the war. "I think I acted correctly," Peretz said. Retired judge Eliyahu Winograd: "That means you didn't make any mistakes?" Peretz: "It could be that there were mistakes that can be derived from the end, but I think that what I did was done correctly. If you were to ask me if I would do everything I did over again, the answer is that yes, I would make the same decisions." Peretz has taken credit not only for the revolutionary changes made to the IDF, but also the government decision to speed up development of an anti-Kassam and Katyusha system, even though it will be operational the earliest in 2010. The big question is what plans Barak and Ayalon have in store for the IDF. Both are well acquainted with the IDF from their terms as members of the General Staff, but defense officials predicted that the two would keep to the current course, laid out by Peretz, of a continued increase in training for all reserve and compulsory units. Ayalon or Barak will be rejoining the IDF during a difficult period - an ongoing operation in the Gaza Strip, growing tension in Lebanon and the possibility of war with Syria. "The challenges that the IDF faces right now are clear," a defense official said. "Whether it is Barak or Ayalon doesn't make much of a difference when it comes to the steps the IDF needs to take to rehabilitate itself from its failures during the Second Lebanon War."