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Mofaz Fires Yaalon Just Before Disengagement is to Begin

In a decision that has aroused opposition on both sides of the political spectrum, Defense Minister Mofaz has announced that Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon's term as IDF Chief of Staff will not be extended.
First Publish: 2/16/2005, 7:19 PM / Last Update: 2/16/2005, 9:57 AM

Yaalon's term will end just days before the disengagement is slated to begin.

Though the official term for a Chief of Staff is three years, it has never happened before that a Chief of Staff has asked, or implied that he would be willing, to continue in office, and has been turned down. Mofaz's laconic move is therefore viewed as a slap in Yaalon's face among much of the top IDF brass.

Mofaz announced last night that "Yaalon will end his service this coming July, following three years in the office." He did not express appreciation or thanks for Yaalon's service.

Sources close to Mofaz said that the decision was "professional, to the point and in keeping with army orders."

Left-wing MKs from Shinui and Meretz, as well as Minister Chaim Ramon of Labor, expressed objections to Mofaz's decision. "The reasons for this decision at such a sensitive time, switching the Chief of Staff and also the head of the Shabak [Avi Dichter] without review and without a professional explanation, are not clear to me," said MK Ilan Leibowitz of Shinui.

In essence, the two people - Yaalon and Dichter - who are most identified with putting down the recent violence and terrorism against Israel are ending their jobs at around the same time.

Former Mossad chief MK Danny Yatom (Labor) said that Mofaz's decision "on the eve of the disengagement indicates irresponsibility and a lack of thought, and is scandalous."

MK Yossi Sarid of Meretz said, "There's no doubt that Yaalon was a more upright Chief of Staff than was [his predecessor] Sha'ul Mofaz – and yet he was sent home with very strange timing... that arouses many suspicions."

MK Tzvi Hendel (National Union) said, "This is another proof of the regime of dictatorship that Sharon is leading. Whoever doesn't walk in his exact path – is fired. This is how it was with the ministers who were fired, and it's the same with an excellent Chief of Staff whose only sin was that he said the truth and warned that the disengagement would grant a supportive wind to terrorism. We must end this rule of tyranny. The silence of the watchdogs of democracy in light of Sharon's dictatorship is very worrisome, and will cost us much blood."

Many political leaders blamed the personal friction between Mofaz and Yaalon for Mofaz's decision.

Yaalon, who knew about the decision even before his appearance on Monday in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, did not say a word. He had told people privately that he would like to continue for a fourth year, and that if this would be denied him, he would resign earlier than the end of his term.

The leading candidates to succeed Yaalon are his two Deputy Chiefs of Staff, Maj.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi and former Israel Air Force chief Maj.-Gen. Dan Halutz. The announcement of the choice is expected in a month's time.