Liberman says he’s chosen next IDF chief and deputy, but stays mum on names

‘I searched for someone who would talk to me in terms of decisiveness and victory’ and not ‘legal ramifications,’ defense minister says

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset on June 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset on June 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has already made his pick for the next IDF chief of staff, although the four candidates haven’t yet been informed, according to an excerpt of an interview with the defense chief published on Thursday.

Liberman began the process of selecting a new chief of staff last month, interviewing the candidates for the job: Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon and Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir.

“I have already decided who I’ll recommend for the position of the next chief of staff, and I have also decided who will be his deputy,” Liberman told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, adding that the officers don’t yet know who has been picked.

As defense minister, Liberman is legally tasked with recommending the next IDF chief for final government approval.

“All the candidates have pros and cons,” he noted. “I searched for someone who would talk to me in terms of decisiveness and victory. In discussions with military officials I hear many expressions such as ‘political arena’ and ‘legal ramifications.’ The most important value in my eyes is victory, not explanations.”

IDF Military Intelligence Director Major General Aviv Kochavi, August 08, 2013. (photo credit: FLASH90)

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 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 that, he served as military secretary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Yair Golan in August 2015. (Gefen Reznik/IDF Spokesperson)

In recent weeks, 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 has 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.

In the interview, Liberman said outgoing Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot has been a “real partner” and that despite some mishaps, their relationship was primarily one of trust.

He added that his successor would have to implement several plans, mainly a brand new land-to-land missile project.

“This isn’t a defense system; it is a new deterrence and attack system,” Liberman said.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 18, 2018, at al-Omary mosque in Gaza City. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Regarding the Gaza Strip, Liberman — who before becoming defense minister vowed to kill Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh within 48 hours of his appointment — said toppling Hamas would be costly.

“There are two options: To topple Hamas using the IDF and pay a considerable price, including the need to rule Gaza, or try to bring about a situation in which the citizens themselves topple the regime. The second option guarantees much more stability,” he said.

Liberman insisted that the terror group ruling Gaza and avowed to Israel’s destruction doesn’t enjoy widespread support in the Strip, as most believe.

“I’m not guessing, I know. In free elections in the Strip, there is no way Hamas wins,” he said.

Earlier this month, Liberman’s office said he was scrambling to appoint the military’s next chief by the end of year 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.

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, Hadashot news reported.

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.

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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