Leave the IDF out of politics - editorial

It should be a routine process that results in choosing the best candidate for the job. However, nothing is routine in Israel.

 Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz  seen during plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022.   (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz seen during plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem on June 20, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

There’s nothing more sacrosanct across Israeli society than the IDF. Whereas any and every issue in the country becomes a political hot potato between the reigning government and the opposition in the Knesset, security considerations are supposed to rise above the rhetoric and vitriol.

Despite its faults and blemishes, there is no doubt that the army does a superlative job in safeguarding the country and protecting its borders. And at the top of the military pyramid is the chief of staff, who oversees it all.

The tenure of current Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi is coming to an end in January. As is the protocol, Defense Minister Benny Gantz is tasked with naming his replacement and securing a smooth transition at the helm of Israel’s military.

The three lead candidates for the position are current Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, former deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir and former OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick.

It should be a routine process that results in choosing the best candidate for the job. However, nothing is routine in Israel. The government has dissolved and there’s an election set for November. Gantz, as he should have done, requested permission from the attorney-general to appoint a new IDF chief of staff during election season on the basis of national security considerations.

 NEWLY APPOINTED Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara waves during a welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem this week.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) NEWLY APPOINTED Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara waves during a welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem this week. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

It’s the right thing to do. As we know all too well, the upcoming election might not lead to the formation of a new government by January 1, when a presumptive new defense minister would appoint the next chief of staff. That would put the whole military system in a precarious position. An appointment  in the next few months, Gantz reasoned, would allow a normal transition period between the chiefs. It would enable the new chief to pick a new deputy chief to take over various day-to-day operations.

Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara is said to be in agreement with Gantz’s request and is likely to approve it.

In addition, Defense Ministry legal adviser Itai Ofir on Sunday sent Baharav-Miara his legal opinion, stating that Gantz could appoint a new IDF chief of staff even with elections on the horizon. Ofir’s opinion gave a classified survey of the security challenges confronting the country, which he said would be exacerbated if selecting a new chief is delayed.

However, the issue has turned political and petty. Two Likud MKs demonstrated that the IDF is not above their petty political considerations. Yoav Kisch and Shlomo Karhi have both attacked Baharav-Miara for not rejecting Gantz’s request outright. 

As Yonah Jeremy Bob reported in The Jerusalem Post, Kisch said the attorney-general would be fired by a new government led by Benjamin Netanyahu if she dared to approve Gantz’s request, which he said would show she was taking a clear political side.

Karhi said the Likud would fire her no matter what because it would seek to replace all appointees of the current government, which it views as illegitimate since it was not led by Netanyahu, whose party won a plurality of the most Knesset seats.

To his credit, Prime Minister Yair Lapid quickly defended Baharav-Miara, saying he was “sure that the legal establishment would continue to act professionally, objectively and put the interests of the state first, as it has done until now.” Likewise, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar likened Kisch’s threat to “gangsterism.”

Gantz, a decorated former chief of staff himself, is certainly qualified – together with the cabinet – to decide who should be the next IDF chief of staff, while considering what would be best for the country and its security.

To suggest otherwise is an affront to the integrity of not only Gantz, but the whole military apparatus. The security of Israel is far too important to be subjugated to petty, partisan politics. A new chief of staff appointment cannot wait until a new government is formed after the next election, or the one after that.

Gantz should be given authority to proceed with the appointment now. Regardless of the chaos in the Knesset, the IDF must not be affected. After all, it really is sacrosanct.