Gantz says won’t let next IDF chief’s nomination fall ‘captive’ to politics — report

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has reportedly explained his decision to expedite the process of nominating the next commander of the Israel Defense Forces as an attempt to try to avoid the military getting dragged into the country’s political turmoil.

“I won’t allow the IDF to become a captive of the political system,” Gantz said in a recent private conversation, according to a report by Channel 12.

“There won’t be a temporary chief of staff in Israel like what happened with the police,” he reportedly said.

“That would be harmful to the country’s security,” Gantz reportedly said.

There was no source given for the quotes, nor was it clarified who he made the comments to.

Gantz was apparently referring to the fact that previous police commissioner Motti Cohen held the position in an acting capacity for two years under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu due to an extended period of political instability that saw three elections. As the government during that time was a caretaker-transitional one, it could not appoint a police chief.

Israel Police Dep. Commissioner Motti Cohen at a police ceremony marking the Jewish New Year at Israel Police headquarters in Jerusalem on September 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The defense minister appeared to be considering a similar scenario repeating itself in the current political reality that may see the ruling coalition collapse within weeks.

Gantz is expected to recommend his chosen nominee to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett within the next few weeks.

Gantz is reportedly at odds with Bennett over the latter’s demand to interview candidates for the next IDF chief of staff, a task traditionally left to the defense minister. According to a Kan report Thursday, Gantz told Bennett he was unwilling to be a rubber stamp on the appointment.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (L) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (R). (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Minister)

The defense minister has already notified three senior Israeli generals that they are candidates to be the next commander of the IDF: Eyal Zamir, a former IDF deputy chief of staff currently serving as a research fellow at a think tank in Washington; Herzi Halevi, the current deputy chief of staff; and Yoel Strick, a former commander of the military’s Ground Forces, also serving as a research fellow at another think tank in Washington.

According to a schedule released by his office, Gantz will meet with Zamir on Saturday night, Strick on Tuesday and Halevi on Wednesday, to “verify their readiness to run for the role, and to hear from them about how they see the IDF in the coming years and the role of chief of staff.”

Appointing the military’s top officer is part of the role of the defense minister, with approval from the government. In recent years, there have been recurring tensions surrounding the process.

(Left to right) Major Generals Eyal Zamir, Herzi Halevi, and Yoel Strick are seen in official, undated photographs. (Israel Defense Forces)

In 2018, then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman and then-prime minister Netanyahu clashed over the process after Liberman unilaterally announced the appointment of Aviv Kohavi while Netanyahu was overseas. Netanyahu is said to have wanted Zamir in the role.

Kohavi was named IDF chief in October 2018, three months before he entered the post. Before him, Gadi Eizenkot was named as the next chief in November 2015, also three months before entering the role.

Kohavi is set to finish his term as the army’s chief next January.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.