The Galant fiasco

Barak’s handling of this entire affair was deeply problematic, the more so when the country is beset by existential challenges.

yoav galant311 (do not publish again) (photo credit: flash 90)
yoav galant311 (do not publish again)
(photo credit: flash 90)
The unprecedented though inescapable decision to annul the appointment of Yoav Galant as the next IDF chief throws us all, perforce, into a whirlwind of emotions.
It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for a talented and celebrated general, who had served the defense of Israel with great courage for over three decades.
It’s hard not to exude pride in our democracy, which insisted on absolute integrity from its designated No. 1 soldier, whereas elsewhere his lapses might have been expediently overlooked.
It’s hard not to be gripped by acute anxiety when uncertainty surrounds the country’s top security position amid the potentially extraordinary dangers Israel faces.
And it’s hard not to feel exasperation at what seem to be the ongoing petty grudges harbored by Defense Minister Ehud Barak as he persists in his quarrel with the outgoing chief of General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, further exacerbating the sense of uncertainty.
This entire sordid episode, it might be recalled, was born of an unaccountable display of petulance. Ashkenazi was not kept on for an additional year, and the process of appointing his successor began, because of Barak’s curious antagonism toward him, made obvious last summer by a superfluous communiqué informing the nation that Ashkenazi’s term would not be extended – when no such extension had even been requested.
Then came the spectacle of Barak choosing Ashkenazi’s successor in a one-day fiesta of pro forma interviews, when it was common knowledge that he had already given the nod to Galant. Barak assiduously ignored relentless reports about Galant’s alleged usurpation of public land in Moshav Amikam. The defense minister evidently assumed he could could carry through the appointment, legal and ethical hurdles notwithstanding.
Our system ultimately did itself proud when this effort was stymied at the veritable last moment – merely two weeks before Galant was to be sworn in. How much better, however, if those who had vetted the appointment earlier had done a more thorough job and blocked it before this final, debilitating conclusion.
According to some reports, the defense minister was loath to give up on his favored choice even after the state comptroller excoriated Galant and the attorney-general told the government that he could not defend the appointment in court. The unhappy saga was brought to an end, it is said, only when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu imposed the decision to revoke Galant’s appointment.
There have been troubled transitions at the top of the IDF in the past, but never the kind of vacuum this episode has created. The levelheaded expectation was that Ashkenazi would now stay on for as long as it takes to select, vet and appoint his successor. This would have been the most stabilizing and straightforward way to proceed, and would seem to have been particularly appropriate given the unpredictable flux of regime-changing events in the region.
Even this common-sense avenue, however, was not followed.
ISRAEL IS facing shifting threats on every one of its borders.
Lebanon is being hijacked by Hizbullah. Syria is tightening its bond with Iran as it braces itself for possible internal unrest. Jordan’s government has just been replaced for fear that contagious street uprisings would radically destabilize Amman.
And overshadowing all the other dangers –and disquietingly not foreseen by IDF Intelligence – is the colossal upheaval in Egypt, which threatens to end a 30-year era in which we were able to rely on the absence of hostilities from our southern neighbor, the Arab world’s largest and most powerful component.
At best, these are unstable times. The bleak scenarios may not all come to pass, but they certainly might. It is a time when the most reliable of hands is needed at the military helm, yet control is being handed over to a temporary custodian.
Deputy Chief of General Staff Yair Naveh may be eminently qualified for the role, but his fellow General Staff members aren’t likely to submit to his authority quite as readily as they would to a veteran commander or to a new full-term appointee. Ambitious generals are already vying for the top spot, potentially rendering relations among the IDF top brass even less harmonious.
Barak’s handling of this entire affair was deeply problematic, the more so when the country is beset by existential challenges. Small-mindedness is never desirable, but it’s deeply irresponsible at at time of escalating danger.