Politics invades ceremony for incoming IDF chief; defense minister issues warning to Smotrich

In what was seen as a message to Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, Galant said he would “make sure that external pressures, political, legal and other, stop with me and do not reach the gates of the IDF.” 

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In a ceremony Monday elevating incoming IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi to major general, Defense Minister Yoav Galant reminded the attendees that he alone is the army’s ultimate political authority as the government’s representative.

“There is one basic concept that underpins authority and responsibility in the military system: unity of command,” Galant stated. “For every soldier and officer [there is] one commander – above all, the Chief of Staff, the highest command level in the army, who is subordinate to the Minister of Defense and subject to the government.

“By virtue of my position and as required by law, I will act to ensure that the chief of staff will be able to exercise his responsibility,” he said. “I will make sure that external pressures, political, legal and other, stop with me and do not reach the gates of the IDF.”

It was a 40-second statement within a seven-minute speech regarding the security challenges the military has met over the last four years under outgoing IDF chief Aviv Kochavi.

But it was seen as a clear message to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who were sitting in the audience.

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Smotrich had obtained ministerial authority in the Defense Ministry in a controversial law passed by the new government that would allow him a certain degree of control over the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and its Civil Administration.

For example, Smotrich will have the authority to appoint the officers who lead these offices, and he is expected to influence policy.

The national-religious community, Smotrich’s political base, has long objected to the military’s discrimination against Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, such as repeatedly tearing down Jewish homes but allowing illegal Palestinian construction of roads, houses, businesses and public buildings to go unchecked.

The right-wing minister supports applying Israeli sovereignty to the settlements as well as their rapid expansion, while cracking down on Palestinian land grabs.

When the so-called “Smotrich bill” was being discussed in committee, the Knesset’s legal adviser, Gur Blai, said that its wording allowed the defense minister “the option of overruling the minister under him.”

In his own speech at the ceremony, Halevi made it clear that politics would not be a motivating factor in the IDF’s actions.

“We will prepare the IDF for war against distant arenas as much as close ones; we will expand the quality recruitment to the IDF from all strata of the population – the source of our strength; we will strengthen the reserve army; and we will maintain a single IDF, business-like, ethical and professional, free from any consideration other than security,” he said.

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