New Israel armed forces chief sworn in

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Benny Gantz (R) is congratulated by a friend during a swearing-in ceremony
© AFP Jack Guez

Benny Gantz (R) is congratulated by a friend during a swearing-in ceremony
© AFP Jack Guez

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Lieutenant General Benny Gantz was sworn in on Monday as Israel’s 20th armed forces chief of staff, taking charge as the Jewish state confronts turmoil sweeping the Arab world.

Gantz received his new rank at a ceremony at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vowed the Israeli military is “ready for all eventualities” as the Arab and Muslim world experiences “an earthquake.”

“An earthquake is shaking the whole Arab world and a large part of the Muslim world and we don’t yet know how these things will turn out,” the premier said.

“We are ready for all eventualities because we know that the foundation of our existence and our capacity to convince our neighbours to live in peace with us is based on the Israeli army,” he said.

Gantz takes over the top military post as Israel’s strategic stance in the Middle East undergoes a shakeup in the wake of a popular revolt in Egypt that ousted president Hosni Mubarak after three decades in power.

Israel has reacted cautiously to the overthrow of Mubarak, an ally who was involved in years of Middle East peace negotiations.

But it welcomed a statement by Egypt’s new military ruling council that Cairo remains committed to all its treaties, including its landmark 1979 peace deal with Israel.

Gantz, 51, replaces Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, in a hasty transition brought about by months of infighting among top generals and a scandal in the military hierarchy.

A former deputy chief of staff, Gantz was second choice for the tough post after the general initially designated for the job, Major General Yoav Galant, was disqualified over allegations that he had illegally grabbed land around a luxury villa he built.

Gantz said that he accepted the command of the Israel Defence Force “with belief in my professional abilities” and “great respect.”

He officially took command at a ceremony at military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Both ceremonies were also attended by US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, dispatched to Israel to reassure the Jewish state that the fall of Mubarak would not affect the US alliance system in the region.