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Israel Appoints New Army Chief

22 January 2007

Israel's government has selected a retired army veteran as chief of the Israeli Defense Forces, the country's top military post. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, it is less than a week since the previous IDF chief resigned following criticism of his leadership during Israel's war in Lebanon last summer.

Fifty two-year-old Gabi Ashkenazi is a veteran infantry officer who brings broad combat experience to his new position as Israel's top military official. Ashkenazi retired from the army two years ago after not being selected as head of the Israeli Defense Forces.

The job went to Air Force General Dan Halutz who resigned last week after months of criticism of his leadership during Israel's war in Lebanon last summer.

Ashkenazi, who currently occupies a civilian position as director of the defense ministry must be approved by a civil service committee and the cabinet. He is expected to formally take charge of the Israeli Defense Forces in a few days. Speaking Monday, Israel's defense minister, Amir Peretz, said it was vital that trust be restored to Israel's military.

Peretz says Israel only has one army and it is vital that the country supports it, especially because the country's young people are asked to serve.

Ashkenazi joined the army in 1972, and fought in the 1973 Middle East war. He participated in the dramatic operation to rescue more than 100 hostages held by German and Palestinian Hijackers in Uganda in 1976, and he has broad combat experience in Lebanon, where he was wounded when Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1978. He commanded the elite Golani infantry brigade and was in charge of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

Last year, Israel launched a major aerial bombing campaign in Lebanon after Hezbollah militants crossed into Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, killing a number of others in the operation.

However, Israel's air force failed to knock out Hezbollah rocket launchers and army operations soon became bogged down in southern Lebanon. An official inquiry known as the Winograd Commission is expected to publish its findings on Israel's conduct of the war soon. A separate military inquiry found that Israel's air campaign was ineffective, and Israel's ground operations were launched too late to effectively defeat Hezbollah.

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