Citing security needs, AG says new IDF chief can be selected before election

After reading classified dossier, Gali Baharav-Miara says despite legal difficulties, there’s ‘urgency’ for next chief of staff to enter role at start of 2023

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 Thursday that Defense Minister Benny Gantz can nominate the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff despite it being an election season, citing “exceptional security challenges” the military is expected to face next year.

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 month. Caretaker governments have traditionally shied away from making nominations for senior positions such as chief of police or the military.

In a statement, Baharav-Miara said she found that a classified dossier along with a legal opinion provided by the Defense Ministry were sufficient to allow the process of nominating the next chief of staff to continue before the November 1 election, even though it would involve “significant legal difficulties.”

“There are exceptional circumstances of necessity and urgency to appoint a chief of staff who will take office in January 2023,” Baharav-Miara’s statement said.

Baharav-Miara had previously said that Gantz would have to present an “essential need” to justify the appointment, but also that there was “no absolute ban.” Likud lawmakers threatened to oust her if she allowed the appointment to move forward and they return to power after the election.

Citing the classified dossier, Baharav-Miara said that “2023 is expected to be the beginning of a new strategic period, which requires preparation, and handling unique and exceptional security challenges.”

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, left, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on October 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some Hebrew-language media military analysts thought Gantz could avoid nominating a new chief of staff during the election season by extending Kohavi’s tenure by several months. But the attorney general’s statement indicated that defense officials believed there was urgency in appointing a new military chief.

Baharav-Miara said that “the state of affairs requires immediate and continuous preparation in the coming months,” adding that it was “of great importance that the chief of staff who will deal with security challenges in 2023 and the following years takes office as soon as possible.”

In a tweet, Gantz said he “welcomes the responsible decision,” adding that he would “continue to conduct the process in an orderly, dignified manner, free of any political considerations, and in consultation with all relevant officials.”

The candidates named by Gantz last month are Eyal Zamir, a former IDF deputy chief of staff currently serving as a research fellow at the Washington Institute think tank; Herzi Halevi, the current deputy chief of staff; and Yoel Strick, a former commander of the military’s Ground Forces, serving as a research fellow at another think tank in Washington, JINSA.

Gantz is expected to meet with some or all of the candidates again in the coming weeks to pick Kohavi’s successor.

(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 considered the frontrunner, with Zamir a rumored dark horse candidate, after being named as a candidate in 2018 but ultimately not being nominated to replace then-chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot.

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 posting 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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