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Gen. Galant to the Guillotine!

Prime Minister Netanyahu & Defense Minister Barak Will Now Present Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz As New Candidate For Chief Of Staff To Israeli Cabinet

Maj. Gen. Gallant Again Calls On Government To Honor His Appointment As Chief of Staff Contending That His Disqualification Is Out Of All Proportion

IsraCast Assessment: Clash For Primacy Between Legal System & National Security

Yoav Galant

Barring last minute developments, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz will reportedly become the new IDF Chief of Staff after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein disqualified Maj.Gen. Yoav Gallant. However Gallant has not given up - in TV interviews he declared: 'I never lied, deceived or acted dishonorably in the land dispute near my home'.
Nonetheless, Gen. Gallant is fighting a rear guard action against overwhelming odds, despite growing public support for his case. David Essing has this assessment of the controversial affair that has rocked the IDF and the entire country.

The public debate over the decision to revoke the appointment of Gen. Yoav Gallant as next IDF Chief of Staff has even overshadowed the violent upheaval in Egypt and its ramifications for Israel. After Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ruled that Gallant had behaved inappropriately in a legal dispute over public land, adjacent to his moshav-village home, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were quick to withdraw Gallant's appointment due to go into effect on February 14th. Gallant was never charged with anything in the case that goes back seven years, although State Comptroller Micha Lindenstraus did find that Gallant had signed an attestation to the court that was not true. Gallant has said the attestation was a misunderstanding as was his interpretation of what public land he was entitled to at the moshav (a collective-type of farming community with special regulations for its land allocation). Gallant's critics argue that he behaved like a 'bully' who pushed his weight around in trying to acquire more land to which he was entitled. Cabinet Minister Michael Eitan of the Likud, who has doggedly persued the affair, has even labeled Gallant a 'Mafiosi' in his behavior toward his neighbors and the legal system.

However, General Gallant has contended that he is the victim of a hatchet job by the media and judged unfairly by legal authorities. His many supporters, including Defense Minister Barak, have contended that Gallant is the best qualified general to become IDF Chief of Staff. Soldiers and officers who have served under Gallant during his thirty-four year career have declared their readiness to follow him literally 'through fire and water!' Gallant was recruited into the Naval Commandos, one of the most rigorous units in the IDF. In order to pass the course, trainees must be of exceptional physical and mental fitness as well as being of flawless integrity. Renowned as an outstanding combat commander, Gallant was promoted rapidly to become military attache to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. As such Gallant was Sharon's right hand man in contact with all of Israel's innermost strategic secrets, to which most other generals and cabinet ministers are not privy. Again, Gallant came through with flying colors to be promoted to CO of Southern Command that includes Gaza , the hottest front. In this capacity, Gallant waged 'Cast Lead Operation' in 2008 that succeeded in suppressing the massive rocketing of Israeli towns and villages from Gaza and at very low cost in IDF casualties.

Gabi Ashkenazi (left), Yoav Galant (right)

It should be noted that British Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces fighting in Afghanistan, later toured the region and declared the IDF, under Gallant's command, had behaved as the most moral army in the history of warfare. By contrast, the other leading IDF generals, who were considered for Chief of Staff, had played a role , one way or the other, in the Second Lebanon War of 2006 that is considered to have suffered many operational shortcomings. So, Gallant, with his sterling military record, was the natural choice to become the Israel's top soldier, although current Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi, for some never explained reason, takes a dim view of Gallant. It could be that Ashkenazi opposed Gallant because he was the pick of Ehud Barak, who is at daggers drawn with Ashkenazi.

The plot thickens: In Israel, the Attorney General's word is considered mandatory for the cabinet and Barak has already started interviewing other candidates for Chief of Staff. On Feb. 6th, the Cabinet is to discuss the affair amid a mounting wave of public support for Gallant after he broke his silence and appeared on TV contending that he was being treated unfairly. He stated: 'I have defended the state for thirty-four years, now I expect the state to defend me'. MK Shaul Mofaz, the Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, has already convened one urgent session on the affair - most committee members sharply criticized Barak and Netanyahu for their handling of the Chief of Staff affair. Mofaz, a former IDF Chief of Staff, is now on the warpath. Mofaz is convening a second urgent session to which he has invited both Gen. Gallant and Ehud Barak. More fireworks are in order.

Meanwhile Egypt, Israel's staunchest ally is going up in flames and possibly headed for a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood. However Israel's leadership is embroiled in deciding apparently against appointing the best candidate to IDF Chief of Staff because of his controversial behavior in a land affair that was finally settled in court without any charges brought against Gallant. Not all the 'legalists' argue that Israel's legal system will be found wanting, if Gallant is not disqualified. Former Justice Minister Daniel Friedman has said that if Gallant was suspected of doing anything illegal he should have been investigated by the police and if necessary indicted. Otherwise, any inappropriate behavior should be weighed by the Cabinet as a question of ethics and not ruled on as a legal issue by the Attorney-General.

When one considers Gallant's distinguished military career now being severed at its peak by the revoking of his appointment to Chief of Staff, more and more Israelis are pondering whether the 'punishment fits the crime'. Prof. Friedman argues that even if Gallant was guilty of what may be no more than misdemeanors, are they sufficient grounds for barring Gallant from becoming Chief of Staff? In addition, several other leading jurists have sent a petition to Prime Minister Netanyahu contradicting the legal opinion of the Attorney General. So, has the Attorney General and the State Comptroller punished Gallant to the point of a legal overkill? There is another interesting aspect to the affair that has been evolving. When the newspaper story of Gallant's land dispute first broke years ago, it aroused no more than a passing interest, but after he was named Chief of Staff, it was suddenly propelled into headline news. Public opinion and news commentators tended to lambaste the General for 'trying to throw his weight around' to gain what was not rightfully his. Gallant retorted that he never lied, deceived or acted dishonorably in bad faith in the land affair and any mistakes he made, he regrets. In his emotional appeal, Gallant has stressed that his whole adult life has been devoted to defending Israel. However, Channel One TV has reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have now switched to Maj.Gen. Benny Gantz and will present his appointment for cabinet approval on Feb.6th. In light of the explosion of the gas pipeline from Egypt to Jordan and the tense situation in Egypt, the cabinet can be expected to resolve the fiasco as quickly as possible.

How has the Gallant affair reached such a sorry state? After the recent cases of corruption by politicians in high places, a spirit of purging wrongdoers has swept the state and, Gen. Gallant in the eyes of many Israelis, is paying the price as did those after the French Revolution, who were summarily dispatched to the guillotine for even the slightest connection with the former regime.

David Essing

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