The first round of appointments by Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi is no great revelation.
In fairness to Kochavi, he had to play the cards he was dealt. He didn’t have a chance to be brilliant. His main battle, and rightly so, was to appoint a veteran commander to head the ground forces. Not someone in his first command, but rather someone with mileage and authority, who knows how the chief of staff works and what needs to be done so the wool won’t be pulled over his eyes.
In recent years, plenty of generals have turned down the ground forces command. The decline in the status of the ground forces, coupled with the knowledge that it was a “wasted” position that would not lead to further promotion, put many senior officers off. It’s a fact, they said, that other than Benny Gantz, no one in the past 20 years has moved up from the ground forces to chief of staff (and even with Gantz, it was a fluke).
It’s likely that GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, whom Kochavi has appointed to the job, knew this when he accepted the position. It’s also probable that he sought a promise that he would be a viable candidate for second deputy chief of staff, after former GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eyar Zamir, who was appointed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s also likely that Kochavi agreed even though they both knew what a deal like that was worth. The appointment of a deputy chief of staff is more the defense minister’s to make than the chief of staff’s, as Kochavi recently learned when Zamir was made his second-in-command. When the time comes, Strick won’t be the only candidate.
But for Strick to succeed, he needs more than seniority.
Kochavi will need to give him authority, a budget, support and status. Anyone who wants a strong ground army needs to change things from the ground up. Former Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eizenkot took the first steps in that direction. Now the ball is in Kochavi’s hands. That requires more than good intentions: Kochavi has a grace period to make changes right now. He’s done this for enough years to know that what doesn’t happen in his first year, it probably won’t happen at all. He has good intentions, but it is his actions that will be evaluated.
Alongside the good choice of Strick as head of the ground forces, some of Kochavi’s other appointments are creating discomfort, as the general staff becomes increasingly cliquish. Kochavi has named two of his close associates—Maj. Gen. Amir Baram and Brig. Gen. Itai Virob—head of the Northern Command and head of the IDF’s military colleges, respectively. They are both deserving commanders, but not more than some others who were passed over.
Senior IDF officials are trying to avoid the impression that service in the Paratroops Brigade played a role in the latest round of appointments. True, Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, former commander of the Nahal Brigade, was appointed IDF military attaché to the United States (an excellent choice), but Washington is far away, and things are happening right here, right now.
On Sunday, we saw proof that the paratroopers have control of the general staff. Kochavi would do well to put an end to the crowing immediately. Past experience has shown us that uniform opinions and uniform military background are not a recipe for success.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.