PM postpones vote to appoint Naveh as interim IDF chief

Netanyahu under fire from Likud ministers who oppose appointment, prefer to see Ashkenazi’s tenure extended.

Netanyahu leaning 311 (photo credit: Emile Salman)
Netanyahu leaning 311
(photo credit: Emile Salman)
Under fire from senior ministers, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided to postpone a cabinet vote scheduled for Thursday during which Defense Minister Ehud Barak was supposed to bring a proposal to appoint Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh as a temporary head of the army for 60 days.
The postponement was said to be for tsechnical reasons – ministers need to see proposals 48 hours before a vote – but Netanyahu was expected to encounter resistance from Likud Party ministers who are upset with Barak’s decision not to extend Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi’s term past February 14 and until he finds a permanent and suitable successor.
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When the vote is held, Netanyahu and Barak expect to have a majority for Naveh’s appointment among the 29 cabinet members, because 13 ministers from Shas, Israel Beiteinu, and Barak’s new Independence faction intend to join Netanyahu and his closest Likud allies in voting in favor.
Several Likud ministers said in private conversations that they opposed the appointment and preferred to see Ashkenazi’s tenure extended until a new chief of General Staff was selected. They said they would wait to see how forceful Netanyahu was in pushing Naveh.
“We are all still contemplating what to do,” Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon said. “Ashkenazi has served us well for four years. I don’t know why he can’t stay in his post for two more months. I will be voting against appointing a temporary chief unless someone persuades me otherwise at the cabinet meeting.”
Likud ministers spoke privately about their desire to “put Barak in his place” by voting against Naveh’s appointment.
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz, the only Habayit Hayehudi minister, prefers to see either Ashkenazi’s term extended or the religious- Zionist Naveh appointed army chief without a temporary label.
Reports circulated on Wednesday that Naveh would once again resign if he were not ultimately appointed chief of General Staff, but he later put out a statement denying statements attributed to so-called close associates.
However, he may end up a “permanent” appointment anyway, because there is no law permitting the appointment of an interim chief of General Staff.
Therefore, Naveh may have to be formally appointed chief of staff, and ministers would later have to vote to remove him.
Barak’s decision to install Naveh, currently the deputy chief of General Staff, as the temporary head of the army without advancing his rank has come under wide fire. Barak rejected the criticism on Wednesday, telling Channel 2 that while he could not explain his decision, it had been made out of respect for the “institution known as the chief of General Staff,” and that he had taken ethical, normative and professional matters into consideration.
While Barak did not elaborate, speculation is that he was referring to the expected publication of a state comptroller’s report on the so-called Harpaz affair and the forged “Galant document,” which could include criticism of Ashkenazi.
Ashkenazi struck back, meanwhile, telling a Tel Aviv audience that he was leaving a “normative military” behind him.
“I am leaving a strong, professional, ethical and normative military which understands its responsibilities,” Ashkenazi said.
Before his speech, Ashkenazi said the decision to cancel Galant’s appointment was “unusual.” He said the IDF was in the midst of a “sad period.”
“At the same time, there is a government in Jerusalem that the IDF answers to, and I can calm everyone by saying that the period might be unusual, but our security is in professional hands,” Ashkenazi asserted.
Possible candidates to replace Naveh after 60 days are Maj.-Gen.
Benny Gantz, who lost the post originally to Galant and recently retired from the IDF; OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot; and OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrachi.
Sources close to Barak have hinted that the defense minister will also consider officers who retired from service several years ago, such as former deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Kaplinsky.
Another possibility is that Galant will succeed in clearing his name over the next 60 days and be reappointed to the post.