Political warfare again proves too tough for Israeli generals

Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi are the latest in a long line of former IDF chiefs who charged into the political battlefield only to be defeated.

Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi at party headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 9, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Blue and White Party leaders Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi at party headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 9, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Col. (res.) Ronen Itsik (Israel Hayom)
Ronen Itsik
Col. (res.) Ronen Itsik is a former commander in the Armored Corps and author of “A Man in a Tank.”

It seems that in modern-day Israel, no former general can make a successful transition into politics. When one reads about the latest failures of the Blue and White Party, which until recently was led by three former chiefs of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, one cannot help but wonder: Is it that these generals specifically have lost their public and political support, or are we witnessing the general decline of the Israeli security ethos?

Until recently, Blue and White claimed to be the alternative to the disintegrating government. Now, the party is on the verge of collapse. It is very unlikely that party leader Benny Gantz and his No. 2, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, will stay in politics for very long. The imploding of Blue and White reflects the leadership difficulties of the two, not to mention their colossal political failure.

But Gantz and Ashkenazi are not the only former military chiefs who failed to establish political power. Their predecessors include failed Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, his successor in the army, MK Moshe Ya’alon, who has failed to establish an influential political platform since resigning from the Likud, and former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who was a member of Kadima, but most likely no one even remembers that.

Since Ehud Barak, who became prime minister six years after retiring from the IDF, no chief of staff has even come close to the premiership. And even Barak held office for less than two years before being replaced by Ariel Sharon.

The historical perspective makes one understand that Gantz and Ashkenazi never stood a chance to begin with. History shows us time and time again that not only do chiefs of staff fail to reach a position of power; they leave the political arena disgraced.

There might be a few reasons for this. If you ask members of the military, they will probably tell you that military officials are honest people and they are not fit for the dirty world of politics. There might be some truth to that, but why is it that again and again, they leave the field of politics in humiliation?

The IDF possesses the highest level of public trust, or so it seems on paper. Many say they respect each unit individually, but the institution in its entirety is quite mediocre. In any case, the army has been the target of more and more public criticism in the last few decades.

The IDF has never been perfect, and perhaps it has been even less effective and efficient in the last few decades. Why is it that Yitzhak Rabin and Rafael Eitan succeeded in going from military leaders to successful politicians? If they did it, why did Gantz and Ashkenazi fail? Were the chiefs of staff more successful back then and therefore their path in the world of politics was more comfortable? Or vice versa?

Some say that Israel has become disenchanted with the IDF—that military officials are no longer considered as brilliant as they used to be, and therefore are less valued by the public and less influential.

The disenchantment of the Israeli public and the questionable political capability of the chiefs of staff have led to a decline in the added value former generals bring to politics, spelling big-time defeat.

How can Israeli society, which still defines itself as militaristic, oust its chiefs of staff in such disgrace? After all, these generals gave decades of their lives to the state and have literally put their lives on the line for our security.

The IDF is no longer the people’s army. All that remains is to ask: Is the generation declining, or is it the quality of the generals that is diminishing?

Col. Ronen Itsik (Res.) is a researcher and lecturer in political science and the author of “Behind The Armor: The story of an Israeli soldier,” describing military service and combat situations against terrorist organizations.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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