Maariv is reporting (Hebrew) that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak vetoed an appearance by new IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz before the Knesset’s subcommittee on covert intelligence operations. This group, chaired by former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, who is also chair of the security and foreign relations committee, periodically invites senior government officials to discuss highly sensitive military or intelligence issues. It’s most recently invited guest was the prime minister himself.
Which makes it extremely bizarre that Barak would forbid the new chief of staff from appearing before the subcommittee. It would appear that the tension and overt hostility between Barak and the previous chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi is rearing its ugly head once again.
A confidential Israeli government source with extensive military experience tells me that the subject to be discussed at the hearing was the Israeli military option vis-a-vis Iran. So one must ask oneself: why would Barak feel the need to prevent Gantz from speaking on this subject to the Knesset’s most senior intelligence oversight committee? The only answer I can think of short of pure pettiness or political infighting (of which Barak is surely capable) is that Gantz, like his predecessor Ashkenazi, possibly opposes an Israeli attack on Iran.
If I’m right, then Barak may be trying to avoid the mistake he and Bibi made when the senior ministerial meeting convened in 2010 to approve such an attack. The then chief of staff and Mossad head, Meir Dagan, tag teamed and single-handedly persuaded a majority to veto the assault. If Barak had allowed Gantz to testify to the Knesset and to bad mouth the military option, then it would replicate the 2010 failure.
If this is Barak’s approach to the new chief of staff, it would seem to turn the position into a cypher. Gantz would be little more than an errand boy for Barak, who would be calling all the shots. Readers of this blog will know that I’m not a big fan of the qualities of leadership and strategic thinking of the IDF senior command. And I’ve long advocated more civilian control over the military-intelligence apparatus. But Barak is not what I had in mind. His strategic thinking is as bad as the current IDF command and it derives from the army itself, where he was chief of staff at one time. With Barak running the show, I think at least I’d prefer to have a strong IDF chief of staff to counter the defense minister’s worst impulses. I fear that this is precisely the opposite of what may be happening.
The speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin justified Barak with the rather strange statement which confirmed my own source’s view of the subject of the hearing:
The defense minister is right because what we’re talking about is a secret committee whose members are required to deliberate on decisive questions related to the subject of Iran and Israel’s security.
One wonders why Israel’s top military officer would be barred from deliberations about one of the most sensitive military matters confronting the State of Israel. How can the Knesset speaker justify such a position as the one he’s taking?
Barak’s reasoning in deferring Gantz’s appearance was also strange: he argued that since the subcommittee was not an “official” Knesset body, that invitations to appear as a witness are optional, rather than mandatory. Maariv pointed out that since the prime minister and Barak himself have appeared before the same body in the past, the argument doesn’t hold much water. At any rate, Mofaz redacted his original invitation letter to Gantz so that the invitation came from the full committee (security and foreign relations) and not the subcommittee. Gantz, who is obligated to appear before such Knesset committees, did appear and speak about the topic I mentioned above.
Barak himself rejected the claims made in the story and affirmed that Gantz testified as requested.