Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s decision to move up the appointment of the next IDF chief of staff marks a new low in the politicization of Israel’s defense establishment.
Of course, the Israeli public has long known that defense ministers from left-wing factions see appointments to senior IDF positions as a particularly effective tool for promoting their views by promoting the officers who share them.
Such conduct dates back to the days when the left was in control of the Knesset. Back then, the left did not even bother to hide the fact that only their partners, or those pretending to be their partners, could be promoted to top positions. Unfortunately, this did not change even when the right took over, and coalition partners from the left continued to be appointed as defense minister and kept acting as if they were still in charge of the IDF.
After the resounding failure of the Oslo Accords, however, and in the absence of a credible alternative ideology, the left realized that its only chance of winning an election was to make a former general head of the party. Preferably one who had recently stepped down as chief of staff. And for such an individual to be available at the right time, he would have to be appointed chief of staff at the right time—a few years before he is intended to enter politics.
Left-wing defense ministers sowed the seeds and, a few years later, their parties reaped the harvest in the form of popular candidates who were assigned the “sacred mission” of defeating Benjamin Netanyahu and the right. But Gantz’s current actions are particularly troubling even if we take this long history into account. What Gantz’s predecessors did in secret, he does openly, without even bothering to come up with a reasonable excuse for it.
Sometimes honesty can be refreshing, but in Gantz’s case, it only exposes the fact that the defense minister, like everyone else, knows very well that his government is about to collapse. Therefore, Gantz wants to appoint the next IDF chief before he is potentially replaced by someone else—in other words, as quickly as possible.
Gantz’s move not only undermines public trust in IDF appointment procedures, but also harms the reputation of the current Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. If this was about the replacement of a mediocre chief of staff, it might be worth it, but there is a broad consensus on the high quality of Kochavi’s skills and achievements. He does not deserve such treatment. In addition, moving up the appointment will put the military in the shadow of two commanders for a long time, which is a recipe for disaster in a hierarchical system.
Ironically, if Gantz’s maneuver succeeds, it will also harm whoever he picks as Kochavi’s successor. However talented he may be, the next chief of staff will be seen as nothing more than a hasty appointment by a politician about to lose his job.
Ariel Bulshtein is a journalist, translator, lecturer and lawyer.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.