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Israel chooses new army chief: reports

Gaby Ashkenazy, 52, an infantry commander and currently director of the Defence Ministry, will replace Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz.

india Updated: Jan 22, 2007 17:58 IST

A retired general with years of experience fighting Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas has been chosen as the new chief of Israel's armed forces, Israeli media reported on Monday.

Gaby Ashkenazy, 52, an infantry commander and currently director of the Defence Ministry, will replace Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz who quit last week over his failure to crush Hezbollah in the July-August war, they said.

Israel Radio and the Yedioth Ahronoth daily said a formal announcement of the appointment could be made later in the day after a meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Peretz has said he supports Ashkenazy who served extensively in southern Lebanon and headed the army's northern command in the final years before Israeli troops, after constant attacks by Hezbollah fighters, withdrew in 2000.

Spokesmen for both Olmert and Peretz denied they had made a final decision.

"This is all speculation in the media," said Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Olmert. But she said he hoped to decide on a replacement for Halutz as soon as possible.

Israeli media said Ashkenazy had effectively won the job after his leading rival for the post, deputy chief of staff Moshe Kaplinsky, wrote a letter to Peretz dropping out of the race.

Halutz, a former air force chief, tendered his resignation after months of public criticism of the military's failure to defeat Hezbollah, retrieve two captured soldiers or halt rocket attacks on the Jewish state during last summer's 34-day war.

Ashkenazy was not in uniform during the fighting and was widely regarded as a safe candidate to replace Halutz ahead of the preliminary findings, expected in several months, of a government-appointed commission examining the handling of the war.