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AG hints she could okay appointment of IDF head before election: ‘No absolute ban’

Gali Baharav-Miara says final decision will be made ‘without outside interferences,’ after Likud lawmakers call for her ouster

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Tuesday there was “no absolute ban” on the appointment of a new chief for the Israel Defense Forces in the heat of election season and that her final decision on the matter would be made “without any outside interferences,” hinting that she may approve the unorthodox move.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has been seeking to appoint a successor to IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi — whose four-year term is set to expire in January — despite the fact that new elections were called last week. Caretaker governments have traditionally shied away from making nominations for senior positions such as chief of police or the military.

“There is no absolute ban on appointments, even of senior officials, during an election period. The question is a question of facts and a balance between the various rationales relevant to the matter,” Baharav-Miara said at the annual Association of Corporate Counsel conference in Tel Aviv.

“It is not possible, and it is not correct, to freeze government action. The state must be allowed to continue to function,” she said. “Restraint does not mean paralysis.”

In response to Likud lawmakers threatening to oust her should they return to power after the election, Baharav-Miara said her decision on the matter would be made “only according to the facts of the case and the law applicable to them… without foreign interferences and from purely topical considerations.

“Stormy waters will not divert us from our path,” she said.

File: Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi attend a ceremony for outstanding soldiers on Israel’s 74th Independence Day, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, May 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Sunday, a legal opinion formulated by the defense establishment’s top law expert was sent to Baharav-Miara, arguing that it was possible to continue the process of appointing a new IDF chief of staff even during the election season.

Gantz’s office said the legal opinion from Military Attorney General Itai Ofir was accompanied by a classified IDF operational summary and a classified political summary “regarding the security and political challenges Israel is currently facing.”

Baharav-Miara had earlier said that Gantz would need to present an “essential need” to justify the appointment.

The candidates named by Gantz last month are 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.

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

By law, candidates for chief of staff, as well as other senior positions such as police commissioner and Bank of Israel governor, must be vetted by the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee. After that, a nominee is confirmed in a cabinet vote.

Halevi is thought to be the frontrunner, with Zamir a rumored dark horse candidate. Halevi and Kohavi started off their military careers in the same paratrooper unit, and, later, both served as chiefs of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate.

Before serving as deputy chief of staff, Halevi, 54, was the commander of the IDF’s Southern Command, overseeing several rounds of fighting between Israel and terrorists in the Gaza Strip in 2018 and 2019.

Kohavi’s three-year post has already been extended for a year, as is standard, though, on rare occasions, some IDF heads have remained in office for two extra years.

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