Israel’s Barak names new army chief to end scandal

By Ori Lewis

JERUSALEM (BestGrowthStock) – Israel named a new army chief on Sunday, choosing a general who led troops in its Gaza war to face future challenges that could include a nuclear Iran and missile threats from Islamist militants.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced he had picked Major-General Yoav Galant as chief of staff, a decision that came several weeks earlier than expected after a scandal erupted over alleged lobbying for the country’s top military position.

As head of Israel’s Southern Command, Galant led forces in the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza war on Islamist militants in which some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

A United Nations inquiry later accused both Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and Israel of war crimes, but leveled most of its criticism at Israel.

The choice of a successor to current army chief Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, due to step down in February, has been clouded by scandal.

Allegations that Galant had hired a publicist to smear a rival candidate for the post has dominated Israeli headlines, which focused on suspicions of back-stabbing in the military’s senior ranks.

But police said on Thursday the accusations were not true and a document at the heart of the affair was a fake.

STABILITY

The police statement effectively cleared the way for Barak to announce he had chosen Galant, a decision swiftly backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who alluded to friction among the generals over the army chief’s position.

“This is the right move and it is aimed at restoring proper functioning in the army’s senior ranks,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

Israel’s cabinet planned to ratify the appointment next week.

It will be up to Galant, a former naval commando, to prepare the military for a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities and any future conflict with the Islamist militant groups Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel, widely believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, has said all options are on the table in preventing Iran from building atomic weapons should sanctions fail to curb its uranium enrichment program.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.

Galant began his service in the navy before switching to the ground forces in the 1990s. Among his senior roles, he served as military attache to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Ashkenazi, who was appointed in 2007 to rehabilitate the army after its poor showing against Hezbollah in a 2006 war, is to step down in February.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Israel’s Barak names new army chief to end scandal