The defense minister’s dangerous petulance

What does Barak have against Ashkenazi?

ehud barak 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ehud barak 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
No one can quite pinpoint what Defense Minister Ehud Barak has against IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
It’s now being ventured that Barak is leery of Ashkenazi criticizing him at the Turkel Commission, which is investigating the Mavi Marmara incident.
If that’s the latest conjecture, previous speculation had it that Barak detects political potential in Ashkenazi, fearing he might enter the Labor Party fray after his military service concludes and after the mandatory cooling-off period. As such, he’d become Barak’s most potent competitor – although certainly not in the immediate offing.
There’s no tangible evidence to back up such speculation.
What is certain is that Barak is heading a deeply divided Labor party in which he enjoys decreasing personal support, that Labor is in steep decline and that Barak evinces undisguised animus toward Ashkenazi.
Unfortunately, Barak supplies conspiracy-theory-mongers with too much cause for chatter. Ashkenazi’s term has six-and-a-half more months to run. Changes at the top of the IDF hierarchy were never decorous. Yet Barak seems intent on turning them into an outright circus.
THERE’S NO reason to prematurely kick the race to succeed Ashkenazi into highest gear. We aren’t naïve. We know that ambitious generals are already vying.
However, when the contest is formally declared and when the defense minister eggs the runners on, the rivalry is bound to get more confrontational. Relations among the IDF top brass are likely to become even less harmonious.
We know that Barak knows this. When Barak himself commanded the IDF, he insisted that the identity of his successor (Amnon Lipkin-Shahak) not be announced until almost the last moment (though it was no secret).
Barak made sure his own status wouldn’t be eroded.
Therefore, Barak cannot be unaware of what he has been putting Ashkenazi through.
It began months ago with leaks from Barak’s bureau to the effect that Ashkenazi had demanded an additional fifth year in office. Though Ashkenazi denied this, and though no evidence exists to support these claims, Barak took the extraordinary step of embarrassing Ashkenazi by formally announcing that the latter’s term wouldn’t be extended. This was entirely superfluous, but Ashkenazi maintained stoic silence.
Now comes another official announcement that Barak has begun interviewing Ashkenazi’s would-be successors (the smart money is on Yoav Gallant, OC Southern Command, presumed to be Barak’s favorite). These interviews – largely ritual – should at most take a day. There’s no rush to conduct them and even less rush to proclaim them.
This is so uncalled for that it inspires extreme hypotheses about Barak trying to force Ashkenazi to resign early.
From Barak’s entourage come vague, unsubstantiated allegations that Ashkenazi undermines his civilian boss.
The two men clearly aren’t bosom buddies. Their differences of opinion have been branded in the media as outright “bad blood.” However, a sign of maturity is to accept that disagreements are inevitable in decision-making forums, especially at the highest echelons and even more so with some of the most vital national security interests at stake.
Serious team-players shouldn’t allow divergences of views to fester into personal enmity. The higher-ranking Barak can strive harder to at least keep up the appearance of being a team player. As the minister with direct authority over Ashkenazi, it behooves Barak to be the bigger man and exhibit proper patience and prudence. Barak plainly fails to do so.
If Barak wishes to strike a macho pose, he achieves the reverse. He comes off as petty and cantankerous. If it weren’t so harmful, it’d be merely farcical.
Juvenile petulance is insufferable. The events of recent days accentuate the looming potential peril for Israel – the rockets fired in the South at Ashkelon, Sderot and Eilat; the lethal gunfire on the Lebanese border; suggestions in some quarters that a third intifada may be unleashed in response to a possible restart of direct Israel-PA negotiations; more flotillas that may attempt to reach Gaza; and the threat of Iranian nukes that hangs over us.
It is dangerously irresponsible to portray Israel’s No. 1 soldier as a wobbly lame duck when this habitually beleaguered country faces existential challenges, perhaps the gravest since 1948. Small-mindedness is always undesirable, but it’s all the more so at this time of escalating danger.