(October 28, 2018 / JNS) The prime minister and defense minister didn’t see eye-to-eye on the appointment of the chief of staff. Avigdor Lieberman wanted Nitzan Alon; Benjamin Netanyahu wanted Eyal Zamir. They were both trying to be clever when the natural choice was sitting right in front of them.
Ultimately, they fell on the logical choice: At this juncture, no one is more suitable for the position than Aviv Kochavi.
He’s far from a compromise. His résumé is more impressive than those of the other candidates. He has the maturity, experience and know-how to preside at the top of the pyramid without reservation or doubt. His appointment is the right call any way you look at it. His diverse path to the top position, through all regional sectors and the high command, has been traversed by very few chiefs of staff: The Eastern Division commander of the Lebanon Liaison Unit, commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, commander of the Gaza Division, head of Military Intelligence, GOC Northern Command and deputy chief of staff. He excelled at every stop, even revolutionizing some of them. The Paratroopers Brigade and Military Intelligence Directorate are both examples of organizations he fundamentally changed.
An officer without blemish
He also had failures: the Gilad Schalit abduction (as commander of the Gaza Division) and the Arab Spring (as army intelligence chief). Even the events leading to “Operation Protective Edge” are controversial but Kochavi was able to translate them into a dramatic improvement of work and intelligence-gathering processes. It’s enough to speak with those who served under him at the time—some of whom are exceedingly critical people—to understand their level of esteem for Kochavi as a person and a commander. There is zero chance the Public Service Nominations Committee, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg, disqualifies his appointment.
Throughout his entire service history, his character has remained completely unblemished. Some people used to think he was made of Teflon, but that isn’t the case. Kochavi is simply an honorable man and commander who avoids (to the extent it’s possible in such a large organization) intrigues and quarrels. People familiar with his home life—his wife, Yael, a senior lawyer at the State Attorney’s Office, and their three daughters—speak of values, Zionism and earnest education.
Hence Kochavi, like Gadi Eizenkot before him (and Benny Gantz before him), will be a “clean” chief of staff. He won’t rub shoulders with politicians, won’t attend cocktail parties, won’t be buddy-buddy and won’t brown-nose. He will come to work in the morning and finish late at night, as he’s done since his first day in the army.
The political echelon likely won’t enjoy the fact that he doesn’t “work for them.” It’s not that he’ll be intentionally contrarian: Kochavi is a system person. But anyone who thinks he can be charmed or manipulated with a wink of an eye, anyone who hopes to find a yes-man on the 14th floor of IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv can expect to be disappointed. Kochavi will work under the government but not for it; he will work for the people and the country.
A tougher challenge that his predecessor
He will have a tougher mission than his predecessor, in all regards. The operational reality is only getting more complex: Gaza is perpetually on the verge of eruption; Judea and Samaria will be directionless when Mahmoud Abbas steps down; the northern sector, the most pressing concern, is being reshaped in Syria now that the war is over, Hezbollah is growing stronger in Lebanon, and the presence of Russia and Iran’s regional activities are impediments.
Eizenkot was able to act and stave off war across all sectors. Kochavi’s mission will be the same, under much tougher conditions. The operational aspect will be the easier part of his job. He will have to maintain a stable multiyear work plan and try fixing the motivational and enlistment problems, particularly in an era the IDF has never been less conventional.
The political pressures surrounding Eizenkot’s tenure are also expected to intensify. The IDF and its commanders are getting pummelled in the social-media sphere, and any decision or comment by Kochavi will immediately reverberate (and not always in a good way). He will have to develop a thick skin, be less sensitive and understand some things are just part of the game, even if the rules aren’t always fair. His first task will be to appoint a deputy. In this regard, his appointment will ensure maximum stability for the IDF.
Aside from Yair Golan (who is already on retirement leave), the other two candidates can and should stay in the army: Nitzan Alon as deputy chief and Eyal Zamir as GOC Army Headquarters. Both should be in the running to replace Kochavi in the future, alongside other generals.
The need for stability and preventing a mass exodus of generals was likely also at the forefront of Lieberman’s considerations when he ultimately decided to tap Kochavi. Now they must quickly choose a deputy so that Kochavi can step aside to prepare, think and perhaps rest a bit before plunging into a position where one little oak leaf—the difference between the insignia of a major general and a lieutenant general—puts tons of weight on the shoulders.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.