Defense Minister Ehud Barak officially announced Saturday that he will recommend appointing Major- General Benny Gantz as Israel's 20th chief of staff. The appointment will then be referred to the Turkel Committee and upon its approval will be brought for the government's consideration.
A statement issued by Barak's bureau, which was coordinated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, noted: "The prime minister and defense minister feel it is important to remove any uncertainty surrounding the chief of staff's appointment and to stabilize the army by appointing a chief of staff who will lead the IDF in the face of the current challenges."
In his first public comment since Barak's announcement, Gantz said he "felt great" on Saturday.
A few days ago Barak and Netanyahu decided to appoint Major-General Yair Naveh as interim chief of staff, a decision which prompted harsh criticism.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein approved the appointment. Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will start the process of handing over authorities in the coming days. Security elements hope the process will be completed by February 14 - Ashkenazi's last day in office. Should this fail, Gantz will serve as interim chief of staff.
Ashkenazi and Gantz (Photo: Yaron Brener)
The appointment procedure may encounter a last minute change should Major-General Yoav Galant decide to file a petition with the High Court of Justice demanding his appointment not be canceled.
Meanwhile, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom expressed satisfaction over the appointment. "I was against the appointment of an interim chief of staff," he noted and added he will support the nomination. "Yoav Galant could have been an excellent chief of staff, however following the circumstances it is better to appoint a permanent chief of staff instead of a temporary one."
However, other ministers were not so quick to endorse the decision. Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai said his party will only support the appointment should it be approved by the end of Ashkenazi's term - February 14. Otherwise, Shas will demand extending the current chief of staff's term by three months, Yishai said, stressing the importance of IDF stability.
Barak decided to appoint Gantz, a former IDF deputy chief of staff, after Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant's nomination was canceled when it was discovered he had seized public land near his home in Moshav Amikam. The Green Party filed a High Court petition against Galant's appointment due to the land grab.
Gantz, 52, was drafted into the IDF in 1977 and joined the Paratroopers Brigade. He held five positions as a major general in the past decade, including commander of the Northern Command, chief of the IDF ground forces command and military attaché to the US.
From Left: Barak, Eizenkot and Gantz (Archive photo: Ariel Hermoni)
He also commanded over the Judea and Samaria division and the liaison unit in Lebanon. Gantz is married and is a father of four.
Elements in the IDF said that Gantz was a worthy candidate. Before being officially appointed, his nomination will be reviewed by the Turkel Commission which will have to consider such issues as his part in the Second Lebanon War as commander of the Ground Forces and his indirect involvement in the death of Madhat Yusuf in the second intifada.
The fact that Gantz was exposed to the forged Galant document and did not present it to Barak and Galant may also be raised.
In the past, there were claims against Gantz suggesting he did not do his best as Northern Command chief to prevent Hezbollah from deploying near the border prior to the Second Lebanon War. It was also claimed he did not protest the degeneration of the IDF's field units during the second intifada.
However, the Winograd Commission did not name him among those directly responsible for the failures of the Second Lebanon War and stated that Gantz had tried his best to correct wrong decisions made by his colleagues in the Northern Command.
On Friday Galant told Ynet he still considered himself the designated army chief. "I am expect (the government) to make the right decision. Mistakes were made in planning and construction plans, and I take full responsibility, but you cannot rule on this matter without taking other aspects into consideration," he said.
Attila Somfalvi, Meital Yasur-Beit Or and Aviad Glickman contributed to this report