debkafile: Nomination of new Israeli chief of staff stretches out as PM Olmert and defense minister Peretz negotiate with candidates on rival track

The nomination has been mired in their contest since Lt. Gen Dan Halutz’s surprise resignation as chief of staff Wednesday, Jan 17. By law, it is the prerogative of the defense minister to choose a chief of staff and present it to the full government for approval. However, prime minister Ehud Olmert, who has been trying to get rid of defense minister Amir Peretz, set up his own side track, combining the nomination of the IDF chief with negotiations to replace Peretz as defense minister.
The strong favorite at the moment is former prime minister Ehud Barak, who last month challenged Peretz for the leadership of the Labor Party. The opposition leader, former Likud PM, Binyamin Netanyahu, is another option in the volatile standoff. But Olmert may have missed his chance; he can hardly fire the defense minister after losing the chief of staff. So Peretz, who has shown no sign of quitting anyway, is the winner in this round of the contest. At the same time, Peretz’s preferred candidate for chief of staff is the director general of the defense ministry, ex-General Gabby Ashkenazi. For that reason, his candidacy is likely to run into the prime minister’s veto.
The opposition, the media and most sections of Israeli opinion question the competence of both Olmert and Peretz to name the next chief of staff, when both are under critical scrutiny by a panel probing the faulty management of the Lebanon War. Its findings are due to be published within a few weeks.

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