February 13, 2011 / 9:35 AM / 9 years ago

Israeli cabinet approves new army chief

Incoming chief of staff, Major-General Benny Gantz, is seen during a handover ceremony for the Israeli army head of Northern Command at Safed in this April 18, 2002 file photo. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/Files

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli cabinet on Sunday ratified the appointment of a new armed forces chief after Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s first choice was withdrawn over a property scandal.

The incoming chief of staff, Major-General Benny Gantz, 52, oversaw Israeli forces on the Lebanese and Syrian fronts and served as defense attache in Washington.

“This appointment will strengthen the stability of the Israel Defense Forces ... especially important at this time of deep turmoil in our region,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said apparently referring to political upheaval in Egypt.

Barak’s first choice for the post, Major-General Yoav Galant, was dropped after allegations that he illegally annexed land beyond the boundary of his home in northern Israel. He denied any wrongdoing.

Gantz, a former airborne commando, replaces Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi, who formally steps down on Monday.

On Sunday Gantz is expected to meet Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was due to arrive in Israel after a short visit to Jordan.

Captain John Kirby, a senior aide to Mullen, told Reuters the top U.S. military officer wished to affirm Washington’s commitment to its military relationship with Israel at a critical time in the Middle East.

Mullen is scheduled to meet Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres on Monday.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Andrew Dobbie

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