Defense Minister Amir Peretz is expected to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday to finalize the appointment of Defense Ministry Director General Maj. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi as the next IDF chief of staff.
The appointment will then be transferred to the government for final approval.
Sources close to Olmert criticized Peretz for not consulting the PM prior to choosing his preferred candidate. Olmert’s aides hinted that the approval of Ashkenazi’s appointment is assured, adding that most of those who consulted the prime minister on the matter suggested he make every effort to keep Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky in the army.
Olmert phoned Kaplinsky after the latter announced that he was dropping out of the race for chief of staff.
During the conversation the prime minister praised Kaplinsky’s ‘courage’ and asked that he remain in the army to help with its rehabilitation.
Senior IDF officials praised Peretz’s decision to appoint Ashkenazi. “He is familiar with the system, but the fact that he has been out of it for the past two years works in his favor,” one official said.
“He is less obligated, less driven by personal contacts; he is a task-oriented man.
Outgoing Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz is leaving after having already completed the work plan for 2007. This year, which was defined as a “year of preparedness”, the IDF implemented the lessons learned from the war which were detailed in the plan.
According to military officials, Ashkenazi will adopt the plan, but will place emphasis according to his own judgment. “What he needs now is peace and quiet to pull the IDF out of the muck,” a senior official said.
While commanders lauded the choice of chief of staff, in the background the stench of the shady appointment process lingered. Most of those in uniform refrained from recognizing the tensions between the defense minister and the prime minister – a tension which produced an oddly premature announcement by Peretz that a new chief had been chosen but without mention of his name – but there is no doubt that the move disturbed the army’s top brass.
An Air Force commander conjectured, “Why didn’t they announce that Ashkenazi is the next IDF chief? It’s a little strange that the defense minister decides, but for unclear reasons delays talking with the prime minister; it’s not clear when they’ll even meet and if they’ll agree. There was a war here. Although there are admittedly disagreements about the ratio of successes to failures, there is no dispute about the fact that there is a tough feeling in the army. The public feels embarrassed as well. This whole process must be more focused, for everyone’s benefit.”
Other officers commented on the poor selection procedure as well: “The problem doesn’t lie in the fact that they’re interviewing candidates, but in the fact that too many people are involved,” another officer professed.
With that, criticism of outgoing chief Halutz was also heard in the IDF. Many officers who learned of the dramatic move in the media last week, were put out by the fact that the army chief didn’t bother to send a letter or note explaining his decision.
“No one expects a personal phone call, but it’s customary in these rare cases to send some sort of notice to the senior commanders, in the least, some sort of explanation, a word about what happens next,” one officer said. “This behavior characterized him when he served in the position, and it characterizes him now that he’s leaving.”