My Word: The inelegant Galant affair

There are no winners in this affair – with the exception perhaps of 360 host Sukenik, who raised his ratings, and the Green Movement.

Galant 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson’s office)
Galant 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson’s office)
Egypt was in turmoil just beyond the southern border; Iran was making itself at home in Lebanon to the north; and two Grad rockets from Gaza landed in Negev towns – one missing a wedding celebration in Netivot by just 20 meters. But the biggest battle last week was being fought by the top echelon of the country’s defense establishment – among themselves. This is not the first time we have witnessed such infighting. There’s even a term for it – milhemet hageneralim, the war of the generals – but rarely has the fighting been so public.
Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, the choice of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, was to be appointed the IDF’s 20th chief of General Staff in two weeks. Instead, he is licking his wounds at his villa in Moshav Amikam. That’s the homestead with which the whole country is now familiar, thanks to the reports of his alleged incursion onto public land. Its size and design, access road and garden, have all been discussed at length, and it stars in the High Court of Justice petition filed by the Green Movement against his replacing outgoing Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein last week informed Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the state could not in good faith represent Galant, and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss had already expressed reservations.
Barak and Netanyahu had no choice but to back down from the appointment, despite the sensitive security situation.
Lots of issues bother me surrounding Galant’s appointment, and its cancellation. Not least of them is the way that when he stepped into Channel 2’s studio on February 1 for an exclusive interview with his friend from his naval commando days – respected journalist Gadi Sukenik – Galant was probably one of the few people who didn’t realize the appointment was not going to go ahead.
You would have thought the man who was meant to prepare the military for any eventuality would be able to see what was evident to ordinary viewers.
Yoav Galant did not so much hang up his sword as fall on it, wrote veteran commentator Dan Margalit in Yisrael Hayom. Indeed, in the interview on 360 – a program which only started airing that week – Galant didn’t hold back and said what was on his mind: that he had been framed, was the victim of a character assassination, a “roadside ambush,” and had been judged in a kangaroo court.
The media went to town. Channel 1 ran a ticker announcing “Earthquake,” and I admit it took me a couple of seconds to realize it was referring to something that could be measured by ratings, not the Richter scale.
Channel 2 was no better. It was obviously pleased at the exclusive interview, but in the middle of what was meant to be an earth-shattering broadcast, the station proved that business is business and inserted a commercial break. Nothing is more likely to bring the average viewer down to earth than an ad for detergent. After all the dirty laundry being washed in public, it was refreshing to remember that we have everyday worries. There’s a limit to how much you can obsess about The Situation when you’re running out of clean socks.
IT IS HARD to know where to begin examining the Galant affair. The original investigation in Ma’ariv surrounding his alleged encroachment on stateowned land was published long before Galant became prime candidate for IDF top gun.
Not that Galant is anonymous – far from it. Many of his operations remain secret, especially from the period in which he was head of the naval commandos, but he is a decorated officer with a large number of celebrated accomplishments.
Strangely, my environmentalist sympathies notwithstanding, I am very uncomfortable with the way events unfolded. The nascent Green Movement might be celebrating a victory as its petition triggered Galant’s demise, but I would prefer to see a change in values through education rather than targeting personalities in High Court.
His appointment was also opposed by leftist NGOs for his role as OC Southern Command during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza – but the same groups would probably automatically call any candidate for chief of General Staff a “war criminal.”
Above all, I am concerned that Barak tried to rush Galant’s promotion despite the question marks raised by the possible land grab, and the so-called Galant Document which is still under investigation, because the one thing he didn’t want was for Gabi Ashkenazi to remain chief a moment longer than his original term required. So much so that last week he arbitrarily announced that Deputy Chief of General Staff Yair Naveh would temporarily replace Ashkenazi rather than doing the simple thing and extending Ashkenazi’s term until he could hand over to a full-time permanent successor properly. If Barak has a valid reason to want Ashkenazi out at all costs, he should say what it is and act through the proper channels.
Galant’s worst offense, it seems, was not “adopting” public property for his personal use. Lindenstrauss basically accused him of lying to the court. And that cannot be tolerated. The military that is meant to defend us – and to do its best to protect the lives of soldiers – cannot be headed by someone who changes his testimony according to circumstances.
Galant could have done the right thing – fight for his good name in court and wait for the next round of appointments for a shot at the top. After all, Ashkenazi himself was forced to wait out a round before he was appointed (by Barak’s nemesis Amir Peretz). Incidentally, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ashkenazi didn’t turn up down the road as a political opponent to Barak.
There are no winners in this affair – with the exception perhaps of 360 host Sukenik, who raised his ratings, and the Green Movement, which managed to raise public awareness of a serious issue and boosted its own chances for a future Knesset seat in the process.
Galant’s name will forever be tied to his trials rather than his military achievements. Instead of drawing up a strategy to deal with the changing face of the Middle East, the top brass of the IDF is embroiled in its own battles; and public confidence has – once again – suffered a blow, particularly as this episode follows so closely the ugly scenes surrounding the appointment of a new police chief.
The situation is far from good, but watching the unrest in Egypt and elsewhere, Israelis can still be thankful that they live in a country where there is a functioning High Court, a state comptroller, free media and a democratic race in which environmental parties can participate.
Despite the infighting, all is not lost.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.