Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday ordered Israel’s attorney-general to investigate embarrassing leaks about a feud among generals vying for the role of army chief. He told cabinet ministers Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein would “examine information from media reports regarding the appointment of the next chief of staff”, a spokesman said. Israeli generals have a history of campaigning publicly for promotions and bad blood is nothing new. But the latest race took a nasty turn with a report — quickly denied — that one candidate had hired a publicity agent to smear his rivals. The spectacle was seen as a threat to cohesion in the military’s top ranks. The mass-circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth called it “a great embarrassment”.
Rivalry among the top brass of the Israel Defence Forces has intensified with Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s launch of consultations to replace the current army chief, Lieutenant General Gaby Ashkenazi, whose term ends in February. Two war veterans are seen as leading contenders for the job: Yoav Galant is the commander of Israel’s southern front who led a month-long Gaza war last year; Benjamin Gantz was leader of ground forces in the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Channel Two television said it had obtained a letter showing Galant had engaged a publicist to mount a campaign to discredit his rival, a charge he denied. The agent in question has also filed a complaint charging the document is a forgery and denying contacts with Galant.
The mud-slinging has drawn condemnation across Israel, a country with compulsory military conscription, where maintaining solidarity with the army is sacrosanct. Amram Mitzna, a retired general and ex-leader of Barak’s Labour party, called the controversy a potential “nail in the coffin of public confidence in the military”. Galant and Gantz, both 51, are held in high regard despite criticism abroad of wars in which they served as commanders. Other candidates for chief of staff were Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s northern commander along the Lebanese border, Gadi Shamni, military attache at the Washington embassy, and Avi Mizrahi, head of central command in the occupied West Bank.