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Thursday, February 3, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Turf battle in Israel leaves power vacuum at top of military command

TEL AVIV — Israel has no military chief. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an unprecedented decision, has withdrawn its appointment of Israel's next chief of staff and the government has been unable to agree on an interim replacement.

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Officials cited allegations of improprieties by Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, named to replace Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

"This is an abnormal situation," Ashkenazi said. "We are going through an unfortunate period right now, but the Israel Defense Forces is strong in the face of these obstacles."

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On Feb. 1, the government decided to appoint Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh as interim military chief, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said Naveh was expected to fill the post for at least 60 days until an investigation of Galant's alleged land grab was completed or another candidate was found.

However, the Naveh appointment has not been submitted to the Cabinet amid widespread opposition. Several ministers have called for Ashkenazi to continue in the post.

Officials said Netanyahu sought to extend the term of Ashkenazi, scheduled to leave on Feb. 14. But they said Defense Minister Ehud Barak, regarded as a longtime rival of Ashkenazi, rejected the proposal.

"There are ethical, normative and even professional interests here of the highest order," Barak, explaining his rejection of Galant, said on Feb. 2.

Galant has been under investigation from the office of the State Comptroller for seizing land around his home in southern Israel. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said he could not defend Galant against these allegations.

"It is no secret that various groups joined in order to prevent his appointment as chief of staff," Galant said in his petition to Israel's High Court.

Parliamentarians have expressed concern over the vacuum within the military's General Staff. They said Israel could not afford an interim chief of staff amid rising tension with Egypt, Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Syria.

"The defense minister's decision undermines Israel's security, and all because of the personal obsession of somebody who decided not to extend Ashkenazi's term due to irrelevant considerations," former Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said.

Former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh has called for Israel to retake the area along the Gaza Strip border with Egypt as well as expand the size of the military. Sneh warned that such an Israeli operation could block the flow of Iranian missiles and other weapons to the Hamas regime.

"If this is not done the military strength of Hamas in Gaza, that is already intolerable, will increase," Sneh said. "The cost of taking over the Philadelphi Corridor [Gaza-Egypt border] is less than the unavoidable price of dealing with Hamas in the future in the Gaza Strip after it is reinforced with sophisticated weapons and instructors from Iran."



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