Gantz narrows IDF chief of staff race down to two candidates

Eyal Zamir or Herzi Halevi to replace Aviv Kohavi in January; Yoel Strick dropped following fresh interviews; AG greenlit selection process despite upcoming election

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

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

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday narrowed down the number of candidates in the race to become the next chief of the Israel Defense Forces.

Last month, Gantz named three senior Israeli generals as candidates to replace Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, whose tenure is expected to end in January 2023.

The candidates were 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.

After a second round of interviews with all three, Gantz notified Strick he would be dropped from the race, leaving Zamir and Halevi as the final two candidates, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Gantz told Strick he “greatly appreciates his abilities and skills and the processes he led in the Ground Forces, and that he is confident that he will continue to contribute to the IDF and the defense establishment in the years to come,” according to the statement.

To begin with, Strick’s chances were considered slim, as, unlike Zamir and Halevi, he did not serve as deputy chief of staff. Nearly every military chief in Israel’s history had previously served as deputy.

Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, then-head of the IDF Northern Command, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

Halevi is considered the frontrunner, with Zamir a rumored dark horse, 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.

Zamir, 56, also served as commander of the Southern Command, overseeing violent clashes along the Gaza border amid protests organized by the Hamas terror group in 2018. Between 2012 and 2015, Zamir was then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military secretary.

File: Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) 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)

Gantz is to hold meetings with former military chiefs and defense ministers, “in order to advance the process,” the Defense Ministry said.

On Thursday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said the process was allowed to continue despite it being an election season.

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

Newly appointed Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara seen during a welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a statement, Baharav-Miara said she found that the contents of 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.

By law, candidates for chief of IDF 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.

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 place for two extra years.

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