Israel needs the best possible Commander in Chief of the IDF (Chief of the General Staff) for obvious reasons. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor Party, is now choosing the successor to Gabi Ashkenazi for the post. This is unusual since it is still 6 months until Ashkenazi’s term runs out. But, there has been well reported antagonism between Barak and Ashkenazi, and so Barak announced that he will not renew Ashkenazi for a second term and has started interviewing a group of potential successors. It is felt that this is a snub at Ashkenazi and is perhaps intended to persuade him to leave his position early. This is a pity since it is considered that Ashkenazi has been a successful incumbent who has turned around the woeful state that the IDF was in after the Second Lebanon War. Among the deficiencies revealed during that conflict was a lack of training for reserves and lack of supplies for the forces at the front. These serious deficiencies have supposedly been resolved. Now Barak is interviewing the commanders of the north, south, center and several other military leaders. Since Barak was himself Chief of the IDF he presumably knows what is needed, but the clash with Ashkenazi may indicate that Barak is himself trying to run the IDF and wants someone who will be cooperative.
Into this complex situation came the “Galant letter.” Maj-Gen Yoav Galant is OC Southern Command. A letter purportedly written on his behalf, on the letterhead of the Arad Communications PR company, suggests ways to improve his chances of becoming the next CiC and ways to damage the reputations of his rivals for the post. Some think the letter is a forgery and the Head of the company Arad Communications says categorically that he had never seen the letter and had nothing to do with it. The police speculate that someone obtained the letterhead and misused it deliberately in order to damage Galant’s chances. But, before the police could examine the document it was sealed in a safe by the court, because Channel 2, which was given the document, claims that to reveal its contents would compromise their source. So we await the next chapter of this sordid incident.
Meanwhile all three major players, PM Netanyahu, Defense Min. Ehud Barak and Head of the IDF Staff Ashkenazi, have all given testimony before the Turkel Commission investigating the Turkish flotilla incident. The notable thing about Netanyahu’s testimony was that he downplayed the political aspects, saying that the security cabinet meeting held before the incident mainly concerned itself with possible PR fallout and he passed the responsibility onto to Barak, because he said that he was absent from the country during that period. However, later he retracted, and said that indeed, as Barak had testified, there was a discussion of the political aspects and he remained ultimately responsible, even though he was in Canada receiving an award at the time of the incident, and he had cancelled his visit to Washington. Barak seemed eager to accept responsibility, maybe because it enhanced his importance. Ashkenazi admitted that the IDF had failed to “sterilize” the deck of the Mavi Marmara before the commandos rappeled onto the deck and that the main failure was one of intelligence, that the IDF itself was not primarily responsible for.
The UN Committee of Enquiry into the flotilla incident held its first meeting in New York. There was an exchange between Netanyahu and Secty. Gen Ban ki Moon. Ban said that the committee could interview anyone it likes, but Netanyahu pointed out that Israel’s participation was conditioned on not allowing the committee to interview any IDF officers. In any case, the UN Committee will eventually rely on the findings of the Turkel Commission, the IDF enquiries, and a Turkish Committee’s findings. All this attention to what was after all a minor incident, deliberately instigated by Turkish militants in order to gain publicity for their cause, is frankly ridiculous.