Yoav Galant’s IDF

Future IDF chief may be more outspoken than Barak.

Galant 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Galant 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ahead of Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza two winters ago, the IDF drew up a day-byday schedule of action – detailing the areas to concentrate forces and the specific targets to be hit. Divided into phases, the planned onslaught, if implemented in full, would have seen the IDF reconquer the Gaza Strip, ending Hamas’s rule and putting Israel fully back in charge of the area it had left in 2005, vowing never to return.
The campaign had been structured so that the approval of the political leadership was required in order to move from one major phase to the next. In briefings in the early days of the operation, senior IDF officials made plain that the army was acting precisely as planned in that daily schedule. As the operation intensified and time passed, however, it became clear that the IDF was being hamstrung by the politicians, who were dithering over whether to expand the campaign – to move on to the next major phase.
It had not been anticipated that Hamas would surrender, but it had been hoped that Hamas could be shown to be defeated even without the IDF recapturing the entire Strip. In the end, the operation was halted well short of an IDF takeover of Gaza, without any dramatic or symbolic sign of Hamas defeat and without a guaranteed mechanism for preventing Hamas rearming, but with Hamas and its supporters largely deterred from firing rockets into Israel since.
The man with ultimate responsibility for the IDF’s performance in Operation Cast Lead was the chief of General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. The man who directly oversaw the operation was Yoav Galant, the OC Southern Command who was chosen this week by Defense Minister Ehud Barak as the next chief of General Staff and is scheduled to replace Ashkenazi in February.
The appointment process has been clouded by the “Galant affair,” involving a document advancing Galant’s candidacy and appearing to spell out tactics for smearing the other candidates. The affair has complicated relationships at the top of the IDF hierarchy, although a police investigation has indicated that Barak, Ashkenazi, Galant and his rivals had nothing to do with the document.
Barak’s decision to name Galant on Sunday, almost immediately after the attorney-general ruled that the selection process could resume, underlined the defense minister’s strong preference for the 51-year-old general.
And there have been suggestions that this preference stems from what Barak sees as a stark contrast between the performances and attitudes of Ashkenazi and Galant as exemplified in Cast Lead, though it is far from clear that this had any relevance to the course of the Gaza operation.
Barak, himself a former chief of staff, reportedly considers Ashkenazi to be overly reluctant to steer the political echelon. Galant, by contrast, is said to be regarded by Barak as more outspoken and more confident – a military leader more in the defense minister’s own image.
There have also been some vaguer suggestions that Ashkenazi has taken a highly cautious line, differing somewhat from Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, on the use of military force as a last resort in thwarting Iran’s nuclear drive.
CHARACTERISTICALLY, ASHKENAZI was quick to welcome Galant’s appointment and to pledge his full cooperation with his successor, even though the selection a full six months before his scheduled departure plainly complicates Ashkenazi’s final period in office. It will be hard for him to make decisions of long-term importance for the IDF, including but not limited to key appointments, with Galant looking over his shoulder.
Barak’s speedy appointment of Galant – whose promotion is set to be approved by the cabinet on Sunday – also leaves the defense minister and his chosen commander at risk, should the “Galant affair” yet come back to bite them.
As this unfortunately rather ugly transition at the IDF helm unfolds, however, we should not lose sight of Ashkenazi’s vital role in rehabilitating the IDF, which he inherited at a low point after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Determinedly and without fuss, he confronted flaws in organization, training and equipment, bolstering the IDF’s capabilities, motivation and confidence.
With Israel challenged by Iran and its proxies to north and south, Hizbullah and Hamas respectively; with security in the West Bank a constant concern; and with other regional players always capable of posing threats to Israel’s well-being, the IDF cannot afford to lower its guard. Israel’s enemies may think they scent weakness in the unseemly controversy that has engulfed the IDF in recent weeks. A professional, effective transfer of authority at the helm is the most effective way of dispelling that dangerous notion.