Yoav Galant: Israel's new army chief

Monday, August 23, 2010 |  Israel Today Staff

Current Israeli army chief Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi's is not scheduled to officially step down until February, but Defense Minister Ehud Barak nevertheless saw fit to name his predecessor six months in advance in an effort to "stabilize" the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Ashkenazi's replacement will be Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galanat, 51, who is currently serving as head of the IDF's Southern Command.

Galant is one of the few officers in the IDF to have been a commander of both naval and ground forces during his career, which started out as a naval commando in the "Flotilla 13" unit that received so much attention as a result of the May 31 interception of violent Turkish "peace" activists trying to break the Gaza maritime blockade.

Galant is widely respected in both the army and political circles, and Knesset members from across the political spectrum praised the decision to name him as the next chief of staff.

In his current position as GOC Southern Command, Galant planned and directed Operation Cast Lead, the December2008-January 2009 invasion of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in order to bring an end to rocket attacks on southern Israel.

Galant and Ashkenazi reportedly clashed during the final weeks of the offensive, as Galant wanted to push deeper into Gaza and try to crush Hamas outright, while Ashkenazi was more wary of the diplomatic fallout and of pressuring the government.

Barak, for his part, has come under intense criticism for rushing forward with Galant's appointment. Galant is still involved in a investigation involving a document that purportedly showed that he had hired a public relations firm to discredit the other candidates for Ashkenazi's job. Police experts have ruled the document a forgery, but lawmakers said Barak should have waited until the case was officially closed to make the appointment.

Long-running tension between Barak and Ashkenazi is also seen as a reason for appointing Galant so early. Some commentators have suggested that Barak is actually trying to press Ashkenazi to step down early.

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