If you were following the brouhaha over the naming of Israel’s new military chief of staff (here is my take on it from February 5), the outcome was more peaceful than it threatened to be when Bibi and Ehud Barak pulled back at the last minute from a bizarre decision they had planned to bring to the cabinet. On the other hand, several other military-related appointments are raising eyebrows, to say the least. Astonishingly, they’ve almost no play here.
On Sunday February 6 at the weekly cabinet meeting, Bibi and Barak, under pressure from the General Staff and key ministers, pulled back at the last minute from their plan to appoint a temporary Chief of Staff, current deputy chief Yair Naveh, and throw the search back open for two months of promised chaos and intrigue. Instead Barak named Major General Benny Gantz, who served as outgoing chief Gabi Ashkenazi’s deputy chief and stepped down last fall.
(Here is the official IDF backgrounder on Gantz. Here is a very smart take on who he is and what he’s up against by Amir Oren of Haaretz. Here is an acerbic backgrounder from Wikipedia that focuses mainly on his warts.)
Gantz was one of the three finalists in the first round of vetting, along with Northern Command chief Gadi Eizenkot, favorite of the dovish Ashkenazi, and Southern Command chief Yoav Galant, the blood-and-guts choice of Barak. Interestingly, Gantz was nobody’s first choice, which is probably why he was everyone’s second choice. He shares Ashkenazi’s views on the use of force, but he is also a firm believer in keeping his opinions to himself, which accords with the democratic ideas of civilian control but also means that the politicians don’t necessarily get to hear the professional, apolitical evaluations of their paid experts. In any case, his demure approach toward politicians is described as equal parts scrupulousness and timidity. One thing for sure is that Gantz is very, very tall for a Jewish soldier. His security detail is a specially chosen squad of very tall soldiers to make it harder for a sniper to pick him off. Seriously.
Bear in mind that commander who keep their views to themselves is a very high priority for Barak and Netanyahu. They have gotten endless grief from the outgoing class of senior commanders who just stepped down — Ashkenazi, Mossad chief Meir Dagan, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin—all of whom favored negotiating peace with Syria and opposed a military attack on Iran.
Now here’s the weird stuff. Major General Yair Naveh, who succeeded Gantz as deputy chief and was Barak’s choice for acting chief. He was hand-picked for the deputy post last fall by Yoav Galant, back when Galant thought he was going to be chief. Naveh is, among other things, the highest-ranking religious soldier in the IDF. He was appointed chief of Central Command in 2005 by Ariel Sharon, by most accounts because it was thought that the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank would go more smoothly, with less resistance from settlers, if a religious commander was in charge. Instead he and his family got death threats.
His views are eye-popping (his Wikipedia page outlines a few of them). Most notably, as Wikipedia reminds us, he “predicted that King Abdullah would fall and that he would be Jordan’s last king, drawing an angry reaction from Jordan, for which Israel had to apologize on Naveh’s behalf.” So much for keeping your views to yourself.
He is also known as one of the leading proponents of the use of targeted assassinations of suspected terrorists. In fact, His appointment as deputy chief of staff was challenged in a petition](http://www.unitedjerusalem.org/index2.asp?id=1404574) to the Supreme Court last November, filed by Yesh Gvul and Gush Shalom along with Shulamit Aloni, Uri Avnery and poet Natan Zach, because of evidence that he had violated previous Supreme Court limits on the use of targeted assassinations, and when asked by an aide if he hadn’t violated court rulings, replied “Don’t bother me with the Supreme Court” (“azov oti im habagatz,” to be precise). The court ruled February 3, as his proposed appointment as acting chief of staff was pending, that there was no reason to disqualify him from the position, even though it criticized his behavior in the field.
On February 21 Naveh was quoted stating in public that the current turmoil in the Middle East was “ordained from above” and that the Israeli army needs faith in God more than it needs or planes.
No less telling, Bibi has appointed retired Major General Yaakov Amidror as his new national security advisor. The position was previously held by Uzi Arad, creator of the Herzliya Conference and for years one of Bibi’s closest advisors, who stepped down after Avigdor Lieberman vetoed his appointment as ambassador to London.
So who is Amidror? Currently program director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Dore Gold’s Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, best known as the publisher of the Daily Alert of the Presidents Conference and a prolific columnist for Yisrael Hayom, the staunchly pro-Netanyahu free-giveaway daily paper backed by Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Before leaving the IDF in 2002, Amidror was the highest ranking religious soldier in the army and generally considered the most outspokenly right-wing general in the service. In the past he served as commander of the IDF’s National Defense College and the IDF Staff and Command College and head of the IDF’s Research and Assessment Division, with special responsibility for preparing the National Intelligence Assessment. Since leaving the army in 2002 he served, among other things, as head of the committee that assembled the Knesset party list for the pro-settler Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, comprising the central wing of the old National Religious Party.