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IDF Chief of Staff Yaalon: 'I considered resigning immediately after the false allegations of Defense Minister Mofaz. The affair has damaged the IDF and I have had to persaude officers not to resign in protest'

Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee expresses confidence in Chief of Staff and seeks explanation from Prime Minister Sharon about why General Yaalon's term was cut short

The furor swirling around what is viewed as the firing of the IDF Chief of Staff reached a new pitch today when General Yaalon briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense committee. General Yaalon presented what he called the 'facts' of the affair and wound up with wall-to-wall support from committee members.

Chief of Staff Yaalon

General Ya’alon told the committee he is still baffled as to why Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz did not extend his term by the customary one year. The committee members, from both the right and left, also say they have no idea and they want an explanation from Prime Minister Sharon himself. In Israel, the position of IDF Chief of Staff is probably the most respected in the nation. As for General Ya’alon he is credited with doing an excellent job in containing the Palestinian intifada and has the reputation of being a ramrod straight officer and gentleman. Why then did Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz reward him by what is viewed as firing him from the IDF?

General Ya’alon says that out of the blue, the Defense Minister informed him he would not get a customary fourth year as Chief of Staff. The only explanation was that this was the law - General Ya’alon says actually there is no such law. The general asked Mofaz if he had any complaints against him; Mofaz replied no, on the contrary Ya’alon had been an ‘excellent’ Chief of Staff. However, the next day, the General said he read in the media that the Defense Minister could not trust the Chief of Staff to carry out the upcoming Gaza withdrawal because he was said to have opposed it. Ya’alon said he was taken totally by surprise and Mofaz had obviously leaked this version to reporters without any foundation. Moreover, the Defense Minister fully accepted General Ya’alon’s plan to carry out the evacuation.

When the Chief of Staff later asked the Defense Minister what was the basis for such a claim, Mofaz replied that two years ago, General Ya’alon, in answer to a question, had said that if the IDF withdraws under fire from any area, the terrorists would view this as a ‘tail wind’ for more violence. The Chief of Staff stressed that was two years ago, before the unilateral disengagement was even raised. When the government took its decision, Ya’alon said he had done his best to implement it. He described this meeting with the Defense Minister as very ‘tough’ and the General said he came away without an appropriate answer as to why he was being fired.

Then at the cabinet meeting, Mofaz said he had lost confidence in the Chief of Staff and there was a need for a new commander to take charge of the very sensitive disengagement. The Chief of Staff said he was shocked bythe statement and had never heard a hint of this before. In fact, two days earlier, the Defense Minister had actually approved a multi-year IDF development program for the IDF presented by General Ya’alon.

Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was asked about the affair. Sharon had understood from the Defense Minister that General Ya’alon had created very tense relations with Mofaz. Again the Chief of Staff denied there had been anything of the kind during his three-year term. He had accepted instructions from the Defense Minister and carried them out to the best of his ability.

Finally, two weeks later, the Chief of Staff met Sharon. The Prime Minister first praised General Ya’alon for his role in combating Palestinian terrorism and developing the IDF. Then, Sharon said the Defense Minister had informed him that he could no longer work with General Ya’alon. The Prime Minister told the Chief of Staff that he had to accept the Mofaz request

The plot thickens. The next day at a working session, Mofaz asked Ya’alon what Sharon had told him. The Chief of Staff quoted Sharon as saying that the Defense Minister had complained that he could no longer work with General Ya’alon. The Defense Minister acted very surprised and exclaimed;’ That’s what he told you!’

So there are now three different versions as to why the Chief of Staff was fired: a new procedure limiting the term to three years, that General Ya’alon could not be trusted to carry out the evacuation or that he was rebellious and had created a crisis in relations with the Defense Minister.

Foreign Affairs and Defense committee

General Ya’alon told the committee that at first he considered resigning immediately over what he viewed as false allegations. However, he decided to put the country’s security above his personal reaction. When the new Chief of Staff, General Dan Halutz was named, Ya’alon met with him and they agreed it was not wise for the new commander to take over just a few days before the evacuation around July 20th. They decided on June 1st.The Chief of Staff said the affair has caused damage to the IDF; he himself has had to persuade some officers from resigning.

Committee members from both left and right backed upGeneral Ya’alon. One MK, Aryeh Eldad of the National Union repeated his demand that Mofaz resign. The committee issued a statement expressing grave concern that it has not received an adequate explanation from the political echelon about why General Ya’alon’s term was cut short. Next week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is due ro address the committee and he will obviously face some tough grilling.

Shaul Mofaz has left key questions unanswered. By not providing a plausible explanation, the Defense Minister has left the suspicion that he wants a ‘yes man’ for a Chief of Staff and that General Ya’alon did not fit the bill.

David Essing

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