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IDF CHIEF OF STAFF 'FIRED'

Defense Minister Mofaz Refuses To Extend Chief Of Staff's Term

Defense Minister's Step Is Being Viewed As 'Slap In the Face' To General Yaalon

Ma'ariv Headline

The regular term of service for the IDF Chief of Staff is three years; however, it is customary almost the rule, that this is extended by another year. In fact, it has never happened that a Chief of Staff 'was sent home' after just three years. Now, for whatever reason, Defense Minister Mofaz has informed General Yaalon that he is not getting another year and will be retired in July, just before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in northern Samaria.

An earthquake in the IDF, a bolt out of the blue, that is how the Defense Minister's move is being viewed. His early retirement is all the more surprising because IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon is credited with playing a key role in containing more than four years of Palestinian violence.

'DEMOTED', that is the banner headline in the Ma’ariv newspaper. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is seen as voting 'no confidence' in the IDF Chief of Staff and for no good reason. On the contrary, a new top commander will take over in July shortly before the massive evacuation of the Gaza Strip begins, a withdrawal that hundreds of thousands of Israelis, have threatened to fight tooth and nail. To complicate the situation even more, a new chief of the Shabak Security Service is also about to take over, meaning that two top officials, who will bear responsibility for carrying out the problematic evacuation, will be in the driver's seat. It was known for some time, that the highly successful Shabak chief Avi Dichter would be retiring after having his term extended to five years. But there was not the slightest hint that the IDF Chief of Staff, probably the most venerated position in Israel, was about 'to be sent packing'. When General Yaalon briefing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday there was absolutely no sign that he was about to be retired.

The big question is why? Defense Minister Mofaz can say that the three-year term is up and he wants a change. However, such a formal response will not hold water. There have been rumors of some differences between the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff. However, this is only normal and maybe healthy. While the Defense Minister is the boss, the Chief of Staff is expected to present a professional military opinion without regard for political considerations. It is then up to the government and the Defense Minister to determine policy. General Yaalon has a reputation of being a professional soldier from 'head to toe', a 'straight shooter' and he has never been charged with insubordination during his entire career.

Defense Minister Mofaz was the former Chief of Staff and as a matter of fact, he was accused of insubordination while serving as Israel's top soldier. After the cabinet decided to withdraw from the Palestinian suburb Abu Sneinah of Hebron, which was a terrorist hothouse, Mofaz dragged his feet and expressed reservations in public. The then Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer hit the roof and wanted to fire Mofaz. Prime Minister Sharon had to step in and Mofaz kept his job. The question is whether Mofaz consulted with Sharon about Chief of Staff.

General Yaalon, in his previous post as intelligence chief, foresaw the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000 and helped preparing the military to cope with the unprecedented wave of suicide bombers. He also oversaw the massive 'Defensive Shield' operation in the West Bank to root out the terrorists and their infrastructure. He and Shabak Security Chief Avi Dichter devised tactics, which eventually contained the terror attacks. The result was the cease-fire announced by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Sharm el Sheik summit on February 8th.

David Essing

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