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Photo: Michael Kremmer
Ron Ben-Yishai
One investigation too many
Halutz quits after realizing he was unable to regain public's trust

Dan Halutz's decision to resign was apparently made several weeks ago, a few days after he was presented with former chief of staff Dan Shomron's findings on the conduct of the General Staff during the war.

 

Until he saw the outcome of this investigation, Halutz believed he could remain in his post and rehabilitate the army.

 

He believed the Winograd Commission would give him another chance. He was also convinced that the investigations and speedy rehabilitation of the army that he had initiated, would help him regain public trust in the IDF and also bolster the field commanders' trust in their senior officers and in him.

Yet when he read Shomron's report, which detailed the General Staff's failures during the war – a decisive majority for which Halutz is being held responsible – the chief of staff understood that if he didn't resign, the Winograd Commission would advise the prime minister to dismiss him.

 

From that moment on, Halutz's resignation was only a matter of timing. Halutz, true to himself, chose to end his military career as one who successfully completed a task he had taken upon himself, and not as someone holding on tooth and nail until the bitter end, and being dragged away against his will. Thus, he completed the IDF's 2007 work plan, a plan that consolidated the military's principles and time schedule.

 

Two weeks ago Halutz presented the work plan to the senior IDF administration and to the public, which, by the way, reinforced his decision to resign. The statements made by senior reserve officials and senior career army officials during those meetings with the senior command showed Halutz the depth of the crisis of trust between the military's command center, the senior command, and himself.

 

The statements made at the Winograd Commission coupled with the public storm surrounding the war, which had not been forgotten, also led him to the conclusion that he would need to make a preemptive strike. The final decision to submit his resignation coalesced during the past two weeks.

 

On Sunday of this week, Halutz informed Olmert of his intentions to resign and started to formulate his letter of resignation. While Olmert tried to dissuade Halutz of his decision, he didn't overexert himself. Now there is a political opportunity for Olmert to hold up the parties he wants in the cabinet makeup. He would wait for the verdict of Haim Ramon's trial, which is set to be handed down at the end of the month, and will offer Peretz a deal he won't be able to refuse – to take the portfolio of a senior social minister, while appointing another senior minister from the Labor party.

 

Ashkenazi won't decline

But the burning question right now is who will replace Halutz. It can be safely assumed that the government, and whoever is standing at its head, will want to place a senior officer who wasn't tainted by the failures of the war in Lebanon at the head of the military – similar to the handling of Golda Meir's government after the failures of the Yom Kippur War.

 

Then, Maj. Gen. Mota Gur, who served as an attaché in Washington during the war, was called to replace Chief of Staff Dado Elazar. Therefore, the natural candidate to become the next chief of staff now is Maj. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, who is currently serving as Director General of the Defense Ministry.

 

Ashkenazi, a Golani Brigade veteran, has vast amounts of experience as a field commander on all levels of the ground forces, as Northern Command chief, and as deputy chief of staff.

 

When the current chief of staff was appointed, Ashkenazi was the main candidate running against Halutz. He had marked support both inside and outside the military, and only Sharon tipped the scales in favor of Halutz.

 

There are those who attribute to Ashkanazi the kidnapping of the IDF soldiers in Har Dov, at the time he served as Northern Command chief. To counter this, his supporters attribute to him the adequate planning and withdrawal under fire from Lebanon in May 2000. Ashkenazi, similar to Halutz, was raised and educated on Moshav Hagor in the Sharon region, and was a member of the same class as the resigning chief of staff.

 

It would be reasonable to assume therefore, that if Ashkenazi is called upon to return to the military in the capacity of chief of staff, he would not refuse the offer.

 

However, he is not the only candidate. The cabinet will also have to consider the candidacy of the Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky, whose experience in the battlefield and as command chief does not fall below that of Ashkenazi's. Kaplinsky's major disadvantage as a candidate for the post of chief of staff is that he was a partner to the shortcomings of the second Lebanon war, which the Winograd Commission is still probing and has still not given its final word.

 

Additional candidates for the post are former Major Generals (res) Shlomo Yanai (currently serving as President and Chief Executive Officer of Makhteshim Agan, and Ilan Biran, the former Defense Ministry head and the CEO of Bezeq). Both have vast command and battlefield experience, although it has been a while since they last served in the IDF ranks.

 

The IDF will stand behind any chief of staff selected. The main question is which one of the candidates will do the best job in rehabilitating the faith in the field command, the public's faith, and the faith of the political system in the army's senior command. The cabinet will also have to carefully consider which one of the candidates would be the best bet for preparing the military for the versatile types of conflicts it is destined to face in the coming years.

 

A further consideration is who will become the next defense minister and who the defense minister would prefer seeing as his chief of staff. If Peretz remains in office in the near future, he is likely to support Ashkenazi. However, if the prime minister plans to make changes in his government shortly, it is likely he will request to postpone the appointment of a chief of staff until a new defense minister is appointed.

 

Either way, the decision as to who will be appointed to the post of chief of staff will not be an easy one, and therefore it is highly likely that Halutz will be asked to wait with his resignation until the political leaders settle their internal disputes.

 

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