Army Chief Is Out
Israel’s Defense Ministry announced that the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, will retire in July, just days before the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank is to begin. Ya’alon will have completed the standard three-year term. Prime Minister Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided against granting him a one-year extension, as he had requested.
The decision was expected, but still sent shock waves through the defense establishment. Senior officers said that it was irresponsible to replace Ya’alon at that sensitive moment.
Chiefs of staff serve for three years, but are routinely kept on for six months to a year. Ya’alon was told he would be given a maximum six-month extension, and reportedly he insisted on a year or nothing.
Sharon never was happy with Ya’alon’s performance, especially because Ya’alon publicly took independent positions on security issues. In the fall of 2003, Ya’alon criticized Mofaz and Sharon for not being forthcoming enough toward the Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, contributing to his downfall.
The announcement Tuesday night accelerated the race for a new army chief, thought to pit Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Halutz against his predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi. Halutz, a former air force commander and reputed hawk, is thought to have an inside track because Sharon supports him. The appointment is expected within a month.
Ya’alon’s retirement is the second major security change announced this month, following last week’s naming of Yuval Diskin to replace Avi Dichter as head of the Shin Bet security service in May.
Egypt Vows Crackdown
Egypt eventually could stop the smuggling of arms into Gaza, its foreign minister said. Ahmed Aboul Gheit met Monday in Washington with Jewish officials at a luncheon organized by the American Jewish Committee. Once Egypt deploys additional troops along its border with Gaza, Aboul Gheit said, he is confident that it could control arms smuggling into Gaza. Terrorist groups have smuggled in arms used in attacks on Israeli troops, settlements and towns near Gaza. Israel sees Egypt’s expanded role in Gaza as crucial to its plans to leave the strip this year, and it has agreed to allow Egypt to deploy more troops there than allowed under the 1978 Camp David peace agreement.
Russia to Arm Syria
Russia will proceed with a military sale to Syria, despite Israeli objections. Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said that Russian President Vladimir Putin told him the sale of anti-aircraft missiles would go ahead. Israel is worried that the missiles will reach anti-Israel groups in Lebanon, such as Hezbollah.
Travel Advisory Reviewed
The United States is considering lifting the travel advisory warning to Israel, amid growing pressure from Christian and Jewish groups.
“We are now evaluating the travel warning [to Israel] because of the new political and security context,” a U.S. official told Reuters, adding that the United States was not yet considering lifting the travel warning to the West Bank and Gaza.
“We are certainly looking at modifying the travel warning to Israel,” said the official, who asked not to be named.
Jewish and Christian communal leaders Monday submitted a petition to President Bush asking that the advisory be cancelled. It was signed by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and by evangelical Christian officials.
Chirac Shields Hezbollah
French President Jacques Chirac refused to add Hezbollah to the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations. Chirac reportedly rejected the request about the Shi’ite fundamentalist group during a meeting Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. The E.U. is expected to hold an initial discussion Wednesday on the Israeli request, but France’s position is considered crucial in the matter.
Rabbi Count Dismissed
A court dismissed one of the counts against an American rabbi who had been convicted of molesting two teenage girls at a New Jersey yeshiva. On February 10, an appeals court in New Jersey threw out one of the charges against Baruch Lanner for endangering the welfare of a child between 1992 and 1996, when he was the principal of a New Jersey yeshiva. Despite the ruling, Lanner still faces sentencing February 23 for his conviction for endangering the welfare of another girl, and for one count each of aggravated criminal sexual conduct and criminal sexual conduct. The case rocked the Modern Orthodox world because Lanner was a longtime leader of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the Orthodox Union’s youth group.
Lord Mayor: No Apology
London’s mayor refused to apologize for comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Politicians and Jewish groups had asked Ken Livingstone to apologize for comments last week against Oliver Finegold of London’s Evening Standard. In refusing, Livingstone said he had been subjected to a 24-year hate campaign by the Standard and its sister paper, the Daily Mail.