Would the incoming Israeli Chief of Staff favor an attack on Iran?

Posted: February 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Major General Benny Gantz spoke frequently on Iran, but his position regarding the military option remains unclear

After an unprecedented series of events, consisting of a public dispute between the Defense Minister and the departing Chief of Staff and two canceled appointments to replace the latter, it seems that the IDF finally has its new commander: Major General Benny Gantz.

Gantz was the head of the Northern Command, the military attaché in Washington and in his last role, Deputy Chief of Staff. Last summer, after Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided not to appoint him as the new IDF commander, Gantz left the army.

As Deputy Chief of Staff, Gantz was in charge of the work relating to the Iranian nuclear threat. In interviews and public appearances he referred to Iran as a danger not only to Israel but to the entire international community.

Last spring, Gantz said that “there is no question regarding our moral right to act [againt Iran]“ [Heb]. Yet according to Ynet’s defense analyst Ron Ben-Yishay, much like the departing Gabi Ashkenazi, Gantz belongs to the “skeptics” camp, and would like to avoid IDF military action against the Iranian nuclear facilities. Unlike Ashkenazi, Gantz is not expected to oppose such an action if the political leadership decides to carry it out.

Here is a video of Gantz speaking on Iran at the previous Herzliya conference:

UPDATE: Haaretz’s Amir Oren also estimate that Benni Gantz opposes a military strike on Iran. “Gantz is part of the level-headed camp, led by Gabi Ashkenazi,” writes Oren [link in Hebrew]. Oren names other senior IDF generals that hold the same views, and concludes that the “pro-active” coalition on Iran, led by Netanyahu and Barak, is disintegrating.

Both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are said to be among those favoring a military confrontation with Iran, if all other efforts to stop the nuclear program fails. Departing Chief of Staff Ashkenazi as well as Ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Yaalon are considered among those opposing an attack on Iran.

Israeli Chiefs of Staff are appointed for three years, though it is not uncommon for the term to be extended to four years. That means Gantz would leave office between 2014 and 2015.


Yedioth: IDF Chief of Staff told US Israel has no military option against Iran

Posted: February 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, the US and us, war | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

According to reports in the Israeli media, a major reason for the bad blood between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and departing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was their differences of the issue of Iran, and especially what Barak saw as an attempt by Ashkenazi to bypass him

Did the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran play a major role in leading to the current IDF generals’ wars? Yedioth Ahronoth’s veteran diplomatic pundit Shimon Shifer claims that one of the reasons for the all-too-public rift between Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the IDF’s departing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was a move by Ashkenazi that was interpreted by Barak as an attempt to undermine the military option:

Discussing the bad blood between Barak and Ashkenazi, Shifer writes (my translation):

Barak claims that Ashkenazi did not respect his authority in many cases. The most serious charge is that Ashkenazi told the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral [Michael] Mullen, that talks by [Prime Minister] Netanyahu and Barak regarding an Israeli military option against Iran are empty words. Israel has no military option.

The unrest in the army’s leadership has reached new heights last week, when Barak and Netanyahu were forced to cancel the nomination of Major General Yoav Galant as the incoming Chief of Staff, after it was established that Galant didn’t tell the truth in documents involving the acquisition of agricultural lands and the construction of his home.

Despite public pressure, Barak decided not to extend Ashkenazi’s term at the head of the IDF (which will end in ten days), but rather asked Major General Yair Naveh to serve as a temporary Chief of Staff until the government approves a new candidate.

Reports in the Israeli media linked some of the recent events in the IDF leadership and the political system to the possibility of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Barak and Netanyahu are said to be favoring such an attack; Ashkenazi, as well as government ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe “Bugi” Yaalon (a retired chief of staff himself) and possibly President Shimon Peres are said to be on the skeptics’ side. Speculations were that Major General Galant was more comfortable than Ashkenazi with the idea of a military strike. With him out of the picture (at least for the time being), Barak will have to look for a new candidate that would not undermine his authority on the issue of Iran.

UPDATE: reports are that Barak has made up his mind to appoint Major General Benni Ganz as the incoming Chief of Staff. Ganz dealt with Iran during his time at the IDF, and upon his retirement, he called Iran “a threat to Israel and the entire world.”

It was also speculated that the one of the main reasons for Netanyahu’s successful attempt to split Labor a few weeks ago was his desire to have Barak, a decorated officer and a former Chief of Staff, at his side when he decides to push forward with the military option.


Flotilla | IDF spokesperson spins Mavi Marmara video for local political purposes

Posted: August 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

After weeks in which Israel refused to release the media confiscated form the journalists on the Gaza-bound flotilla, a short clip is posted on the IDF radio site, just at the perfect timing for Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s needs

Israeli chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi testified this week before the Turkel committee, the investigating panel Israel has formed to look into the events surrounding the deadly raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

In what seemed like a strange coincident, while Ashkenazy was testifying, IDF Radio released another short clip from the videos taken on the the Mavi Marmara and later confiscated by the army. This new video, it was claimed, shows Arab Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi “in the presence of armed men on board the ship”. The Israeli media immediately jumped on the story, and Ashkenazy was temporarily forgotten.

MK Zoabi, who was on the Mavi Marmara, was the target of unprecedented public outrage in the Jewish public. She was almost physically attacked by Knessent Members, and later striped of some of her privileges as a member of the Israeli Parliament.

The head of the IDF Spokesperson unit, brigadier general Avi Bnayahu, is the closest ally of Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, among high ranking officers.

As can be seen below, the clip the IDF released was heavily edited. MK Zoabi is seen passing on the deck when two men with sticks are passing, later she is seen with other men carrying sticks, but this is apparently after the IDF soldiers boarded the ship. Yet the headlines describing the clip in the Hebrew media declared that unlike what Zoabi told reporters after the raid, “She knew the passengers were armed“. Even Haaretz site claimed that the film proved MK Zoabi knew of the existence of weapons on the ship.

Leaving aside the fact that calling people carrying sticks and polls armed – especially when they face battle ships and commando soldiers – is taking it a bit far; there is little doubt on my mind that by releasing the film IDF spokesperson tried to provoke public anger against an Israeli Member of Parliament in order to silence the growing criticism over the army’s performances, and especially the talk regarding the actions of Chief of Staff Ashkenazy, who remained at his home and didn’t supervise the attack from Central Command in Tel Aviv.

If the Israeli army had serious allegations against MK Zoabi, he should have turned them to the state prosecutor’s office, rather than post them on the IDF radio’s site (As far as I know, it’s the only Mavi Marmara video not released officially on the army spokesperson’s site, but through the radio station). But it is the timing tells the real story: there hasn’t been a Maramara clip released in weeks now, and suddenly, when the chief of staff faces some public criticism, suddenly there are new “evidences” Israelis must see.

These are not easy days for the IDF’s commander, who is caught in an ugly public battle with defense minister Ehud Barak over the identity of his successor. Barak whishes that GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant will take over the Israeli army and Ashkenazi wants anyone but Galant. Affairs turned toxic last week after channel 2 published a document detailing a PR campaign to boost the chances of Galant winning the job (Galant claimed the document is fake and that this is a set-up intended to smear him). This led to a police investigation, and current suggestions are that the source for the leaked document was army spokesperson Avi Bnayahu.

It seems that Bnayahu, maybe even Ashkenazy, used the oldest trick in the handbook for the Israeli politician: Faced with troubles, find an unpopular Arab and attack him.

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The release of the new video by the Army spokesperson – this time, it seems, not to help Israel’s case in the world but for the army’s local political needs – should remind us that Israel is still holding the evidences that could have shed light on the events that took place on the Mavi Marmara and led to the death of nine people.

As they were led off the ships in the Israeli port of Ashdod, around 60 journalists who were present on the Gaza-bound flotilla had all their electronic items taken from them and all recorded media confiscated, never to be returned. Kürşat Bayhan, a Turkish reporter, told Zaman newspaper that he tried to hide his camera’s flash memory card under his tongue, but it was discovered and confiscated during a medical examination. Iara Lee, a Brazilian-American filmmaker who managed to smuggle out of Israel an hour-long video, said in a news conference at United Nations that another memory card she had was discovered and taken from her.

During the days following the raid, IDF spokesperson released short clips which appeared to have been taken from the footage confiscated from media representatives. These segments – who appeared to have backed some of Israel’s claims regarding the events – were released without stating who them, were and when.

At the time, I contacted the army spokesperson in request for an official explanation regarding the detention of journalists present on a foreign vessel and the confiscation of their recorded material.

In an official comment, IDF spokesperson stated that all media was taken from the journalists “for security reasons”, and that it was used later by the army “due to false allegations that were brought up.”

The army spokesperson chose not to comment on my question regarding the legal ground for these actions.