debkafile Exclusive: Frontrunner as Israel’s next chief of staff is Maj.-Gen Benny Gantz, head of IDF Ground Wing and former OC Northern Command

Most other plausible replacements for Lt.-Gen Dan Halutz are eliminated because next month they will receive cautionary notices from the Vinograd commission which is probing the mismanagement of the Lebanon War last summer at the civilian and military levels.
The generals to be disqualified for their performance in the conflict against Hizballah, apart from Halutz, include his deputy, Maj.-Gen Moshe Kaplinsky, the new OC Northern Command, Maj.-Gen Gad Eisenkott, who was wartime chief of operations, as well as the air force and navy chiefs. They are all under fire for the way they handled their war and pre-war responsibilities – all except General Gantz.
Preliminary conclusions reached by the inquiry panel, according to debkafile‘s military sources, find that Gantz and the previous chief of staff General (res.) Moshe Yaalon – who was questioned at length this week – both duly performed their functions of preparing the armed forces for war. But the generals under fire fell down in their activation in combat.
The inquiry commission has not been influenced by the argument commonly heard from the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff that the parties responsible for the war blunders are best fitted to correct them and prepare the army for future challenges. Its members have reached the opposite conclusion and tend to bring those responsible to account. They have gone so far as to fault the structure of the general staff and military chain of command as a whole. These faults led, for instance, to division and brigade commanders having no control over elements essential to battlefield operations, such as supplies of fuel, ordnance, food and medical care.
debkafile notes that this will be the first time that the appointment of an Israeli armed forces chief is virtually taken out of the hands of the government. The findings of the Vinograd commission will also bear strongly on the shape of Israel’s government at the highest level by directing a strong light on how its leaders functioned in the Lebanon war.
This week, two TV news reporters carried the same leak claiming that prime minister Ehud Olmert had decided to fire defense minister, the Labor leader Amir Peretz, to lift his own plunging approval rating. The PM’s office quickly denied the report, although it could not stop the rumors of an intrigue by the prime minister and Peretz’s Labor rivals to displace the defense minister. Earlier this week, foreign minister Tzipi Livni threw her hat in the ring to challenge Olmert for the premiership on behalf of Kadima.
These maneuvers are premature and unlikely to survive the conclusions and finger-pointing of the Lebanon War probe. Those conclusions will be published in the first half of the year and determine by default or a process of elimination not only the next chief of staff but also the heads of government, including the next prime minister and defense minister.

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