Gantz vows to tap next IDF chief as opposition moves to block new appointments

Right-wing and religious parties file letter to attorney general requesting she not approve senior permanent appointments before next coalition is formed

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

Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a Blue and White party faction meeting at the Knesset, June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a Blue and White party faction meeting at the Knesset, June 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday vowed to push ahead with choosing the next chief of the Israel Defense Forces, after the opposition’s right-wing and religious parties petitioned to block the collapsing government from making any senior appointments until a new government is formed.

In a letter to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, the leaders of the Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Religious Zionism Party argued that the caretaker government set to take over once the Knesset votes to dissolve did not have a mandate to decide on high-level postings.

“I plan, as much as possible, to continue to advance this process… and I will let myself say that there is nobody in Israel that knows the candidates better than me, their capabilities, and the needs of the system, and knows to pick the right person among the exceptional candidates,” Gantz said at a briefing, where he also discussed election plans.

Gantz had hoped to appoint the next IDF chief ahead of the anticipated coalition collapse, but it appeared he would not manage to do so in time, since the Knesset is set to disperse as early as next week.

Permanent appointments of senior officials — such as the chief of police or military — have not traditionally been made during the terms of caretaker governments. Between 2018 and 2020, Israel Police had an acting commissioner amid several rounds of inconclusive elections.

The attorney general can still evaluate the propriety of approving permanent appointments during an interim government, if ones are made. As a result, the opposition parties have demanded Baharav-Miara not allow it under any circumstances until the next government is sworn in.

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

The four-year tenure of the current IDF chief of general staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, is expected to end in January 2023. The position is a three-year post, though it can be extended by a year, or on one rare occasion, two years. Most army chiefs serve for four years.

The candidates named by Gantz last week were 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)

According to a schedule released by his office, Gantz met with Zamir on Sunday, and was to meet with Strick and Halevi on Tuesday, 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.”

Gantz will also meet with former senior defense officials “for further consultations,” his office said, “and if necessary will hold additional meetings with the candidates.”

IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi speaks during a conference in the central city of Modi’in, June 12, 2022. (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.

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