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IDF chief said vowing to stop Smotrich interference in appointing army generals

‘There is no possibility of this happening,’ Kohavi reportedly tells confidants after far-right leader wins right to name candidates for 2 key West Bank positions

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a conference of the Gazit Institute in Tel Aviv, November 4, 2022. (Gideon Markowicz/ Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a conference of the Gazit Institute in Tel Aviv, November 4, 2022. (Gideon Markowicz/ Flash90)

Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Aviv Kohavi vowed to stop far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich from being able to nominate military generals for two key positions, according to Monday reports.

Smotrich has been seeking influence over West Bank policy in coalition negotiations with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and has secured the right to nominate candidates for positions overseeing much of the territory.

“I won’t allow any interference in the appointment of IDF generals. There is no possibility of this happening,” Kohavi was quoted as saying by Channel 13 news during closed conversations.

The Haaretz daily reported similar comments from Kohavi and said that incoming IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi agrees with him. Halevi is due to take over as military chief in January.

A copy of the partial coalition deal released Monday showed that the Religious Zionism party is set to be granted extensive influence over the Israeli government’s civilian activities in the West Bank, from appointing key officials to providing final approvals for building and demolitions in a majority of the territory.

A Religious Zionism-appointed minister in the Defense Ministry will be in charge of “Jewish settlement and open lands,” a position that was announced by a party spokesman when the deal was signed with Netanyahu’s Likud party last week.

The agreement states that the minister appointed to the role, reportedly likely to be Smotrich, will act with the coordination and agreement of the prime minister.

This minister will have the authority to appoint the heads of the powerful Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and the Civil Administration, responsible for the government’s civil policy within the West Bank.

Previously, the major general commanding COGAT was appointed by the defense minister, upon recommendation from the IDF chief of staff. The army chief had sole purview over appointing a brigadier general to head the Civil Administration.

Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich is seen after coalition talks, outside a hotel in Jerusalem, December 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Channel 13 report quoted a senior defense official warning that such a move “will break the chain of command and create anarchy.”

“It can’t be that a minister who is not defense minister appoints the head of the Civil Administration,” the official added.

The IDF spokesperson department denied leaking the comments.

The network also said that Netanyahu spoke with Likud MK Yoav Gallant, a retired general who is expected to be the next defense minister, about the changes at the Defense Ministry. Gallant gave “the green light” to let Smotrich select the commanders of COGAT and the Civil Administration, the report said.

Earlier Monday, outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that his successor will have to actively guard against military powers being peeled off and transferred to Smotrich and extremist Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir, who is due to head a new National Security Ministry that will be given authority over Border Police in the West Bank.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid attacked the agreement for allowing a minister to appoint the positions rather than the IDF’s chief of staff.

“Netanyahu sold the IDF to the hardalim,” Lapid tweeted, using a word to denote ultraconservative, ultra-religious Israelis.

A number of former Israeli politicians and senior IDF officers have also railed against the agreement for giving Smotrich extensive powers over Israeli settlements and Palestinian daily life.

The Religious Zionism party did not respond to a request to fully clarify the responsibilities granted it under the agreement.

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