Security officials expect infantry officer to be next Israeli army chief

The withdrawal of a top commander from the race for the army's top job has cleared the way for a gruff infantry commander to become Israel's next chief of staff, security officials said Monday.

Gabi Ashkenazi seemed sure to get the job after his only competitor, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, the deputy chief of staff, withdrew his candidacy on Sunday.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz were set to meet later Monday to confirm Ashkenazi's candidacy, the security officials said, and no other candidates were being considered.

The process, which requires final approval by the Israeli Cabinet, is expected to take several days.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Ashkenazi's appointment was not yet official.

Ashkenazi, 53, a retired major general, fought as a young infantryman in the 1973 Mideast War and took part in Israel's rescue of more than 100 hostages held by Palestinian and German hijackers at Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.

He served as an officer in the first Lebanon war in 1982, and then oversaw the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from south Lebanon in 2000.

Ashkenazi, currently the director of the Defense Ministry, a civilian job, left the army in 2005 after being passed over for the top job in favor of Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the outgoing chief of staff, reports AP.

Halutz, the first former air force chief to head the army, announced his resignation last week after being widely criticized for his part in Israel's inconclusive war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon last summer.

The fact that Ashkenazi was not in the army during the war worked to his advantage, distancing him from the military's perceived failures during the conflict.

With the army heavily criticized for an over-reliance on air power in the Lebanon war, both of the candidates for the army's top job this time around, Ashkenazi and Kaplinsky, were infantry officers believed able to upgrade Israel's ground forces.

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