Army brass slams Ya'alon decision

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 17-Feb-05 | Author: Amos Harel| Source: Ha'aretz

Alon Ron Chief of Staff Ya'alon waving to the press on his way into the Habimah theater in Tel Aviv yesterday.
Harsh accusations were traded yesterday between the office of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and high-ranking Israel Defense Forces officers in the wake of Mofaz's decision to end Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon's term in office this July.

Mofaz, who declined to be questioned on the matter yesterday, explains his decision by saying he is unable to rely on Ya'alon during implementation of the disengagement plan. Ya'alon associates say that prior to this week, Mofaz had never before spoken to the chief of staff about problems with his performance.

The decision to limit Ya'alon's term in office to three years came last Thursday during a meeting between Mofaz and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Mofaz informed Ya'alon of the decision during a brief talk on Monday evening, 24 hours before the news broke.

Mofaz believes that the country is facing two tough challenges in the near future - the disengagement, and an effort to make diplomatic progress with the Palestinians - and that he has to face these tasks with people he has complete trust in at his side. Ya'alon, the defense minister feels, does not meet this definition.

"This isn't a personal matter between them; it's a question of national interests," say security sources." Mofaz has every right to decide on the team that will work with him, and to work only with people he can trust. When it comes to the crunch, responsibility for implementing the disengagement falls on his shoulders."

The sources said Sharon and Mofaz were angered by remarks Ya'alon made about the pullout and are concerned he is not sufficiently committed to the move.

The decision not to extend Ya'alon's term in office drew harsh criticism from a number of high-ranking officers. "There was no colossal crisis between Mofaz and Ya'alon that would require such a step," a senior officer told Haaretz. "What we have here is a serious blow to the status of the chief of staff and a spit in the face of the army. There is no justification for such an ousting, which creates a gloomy atmosphere in the corridors. The charges Mofaz is leveling against Ya'alon are absurd."

The senior officer expressed concern that replacing the chief of staff so close to the implementation of the pullout could reduce the plan's chances of success. "Sharon and Mofaz are mistaken if they believe that ousting a chief of staff who speaks his mind will make the disengagement easier," he said. "Both Dan Halutz and Gabi Ashkenazi, the candidates to succeed him, are far from being puppets."

Members of the General Staff suspect that Sharon's son, MK Omri Sharon, and his bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, were involved in "cooking up" the move against Ya'alon. As of last night, the prime minister had yet to exchange words with Ya'alon on the matter.

Sources close to Mofaz say that the defense minister had discussed extending Ya'alon's term by six months, but that the chief of staff had asked for another year. Mofaz, they say, was angered when he read a report in Maariv a few weeks ago in which Ya'alon was said to be demanding a year's extension, and that he would resign if he didn't get it.

"One doesn't give ultimatums to the political echelon," Mofaz said at the time.

Ya'alon associates say that he had not issued any ultimatums, and that the chief of staff and Mofaz have not held a serious talk on the matter of extending his term. They say that the leak to the press did not come from Ya'alon.

Mofaz's associates responded angrily to the criticism from within the IDF. "Ya'alon should behave like a chief of staff, and set a personal example - to "salute the decision" and obey it," they say. "He makes decisions on ending officers terms in office on a daily basis, and he expects them to accept them without complaints. It's a perfectly legitimate decision. Mofaz is simply the first defense minister with the courage to limit the term in office of the chief of staff to three years."

Speaking yesterday to new recruits from kibbutzim, Ya'alon referred indirectly to the affair, saying that, "The moment the political echelon makes a decision, even if we haven't recommended it, it is our duty as an army to comply with it. ... Regrettably, in the Israel reality, we [the IDF] are brought into politics too much."