Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is scrambling to appoint the military’s next chief of staff by the end of year, his office said Thursday, despite two petitions to the High Court of Justice questioning the eligibility of two members of the vetting committee, which appear likely to delay the process.
In order to get his pick for Israel Defense Forces chief of staff confirmed by December 31 — when current army chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot is due to complete his four-year tenure — the minister was expected to put forth two candidates to the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee for consideration by the end of this week.
However, petitions filed to the High Court of Justice have called into question the eligibility of two members of the four-person committee and are likely to delay the proceedings, something Liberman is hoping to avoid.
“The Defense Ministry is in dialogue with the chairman of the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee and with the Justice Ministry in an effort to shorten the schedule as much as possible,” Liberman’s office said in a statement.
The identities of the two candidates for IDF chief of staff — out of a pool of four — have yet to be revealed publicly.
Eliezer Goldberg, the chairman of the committee and a former Supreme Court justice, informed Liberman recently that there was little point in his submitting the names of the candidates as the committee had been “neutralized” and would be unable to make a recommendation until the legal petitions were resolved, Israel’s Hadashot news reported Wednesday.
The petitions will likely only be addressed by the High Court in September.
The petitions claim committee members Yaakov Nagel and Iris Stark may have conflicts of interest. Nagel is a former national security adviser to Netanyahu, and Stark is reported to have various business interests ties to a number of government ministries.
If the court rules in favor of the petitioners, any government appointments are expected to be furthered delayed as replacements are sought for Nagel and Stark.
Liberman began the process of selecting a new chief of staff last month, interviewing the four candidates for the job: Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon and Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir.
Deputy Chief of Staff Kochavi is seen as a front-runner for the position, having served as the head of the IDF Northern Command and head of Military Intelligence, following years as a field commander in the Paratroopers Brigade.
Alon formerly served as head of IDF Operations, controlling the military’s day-to-day activities and was previously the commander of the often controversial Central Command, which controls the West Bank. He was recently named the project manager of the military’s multi-front operations against Israel’s arch-nemesis Iran.
Zamir served until recently as head of the Southern Command, overseeing the construction of a massive underground barrier around the Gaza Strip to thwart terror groups’ border-crossing attack tunnels. Before this, he served as military secretary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In recent days, former deputy chief of staff Golan, who served as head of the Northern Command and head of the Home Front Command, has faced a campaign to have him removed from consideration for the position of IDF chief over controversial remarks he made in 2016 and 2006. Liberman said the campaign, run by a right-wing organization, will not affect his decision.
Speaking at a national ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2016, Golan warned of worrying trends in Israeli society that he said were reminiscent of those seen in Germany in the lead up to World War II. Shortly after he made those remarks, a recording emerged of comments he made in 2006, when he was head of the army’s West Bank division, in which he said IDF soldiers should take risks in order to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians.
As defense minister, Liberman is legally tasked with recommending the next IDF chief for final government approval.
Candidates for chief of staff, as well as other senior positions such as police commissioner and Bank of Israel governor, must by law be vetted by the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee.
With the government also set to soon select a new police commissioner and governor of the Bank of Israel, Hadashot news noted the appointment of any potential candidates for these posts could be delayed as well.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.