Former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eizenkot deserves credit for a lot of things, and one of them is his plain-spokenness. You can understand his positions and considerations. One could conclude from them that the reason he intends to go into politics is his criticism of the political leadership while he was in charge of the military. Thus, he wants to promote himself to the political decision-making echelon.
One thing is certain: Whatever party Eizenkot joins, he will not find leaders who criticize his views. If he joins Yair Lapid, which makes the most sense, Eizenkot will rule alone when it comes to security and defense. And it must be said that, despite his criticism of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Eizenkot was the most successful IDF chief of staff in the last 15 years. The success of which he is justifiably proud says something about the defense leadership at the political level.
What is more concerning, however, is his remark about the war against Hamas, which appears to reflect the views held in recent years by the IDF top brass. “The IDF is wasting energy fighting the weakest enemy in the Middle East in a complicated reality that does not allow them to be defeated,” he said. “This creates a situation in which little Hamas declares that they are standing up to the big IDF. It harms deterrence. It harms Israel’s image as a victorious country.”
Eizenkot, then, accepts a situation in which Hamas is not defeated, because of a “complicated reality.” Essentially, he accepts the capability of the so-called “weak” party to attack Israel on its home front, without restrictions, because there is no point in going to war against a weak enemy. We need to wage war against a strong enemy, like Iran. In this, Eizenkot reflects the previous generation of IDF leaders’ lack of understanding about the way in which the Palestinians are fighting Israel. This could teach us something about the candidates for chief of staff.
According to various reports, Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi is Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s pick. Some call him the “frontrunner.” Around 20 years ago, when he was commander of the Sayeret Matkal unit, Halevi personally showed up to present Prof. Benzion Netanyahu with a War of Attrition ribbon for Netanyahu’s fallen son, Yoni, which the IDF issued 30 years late. That might say something about the traditions of old Jerusalem families.
The current pressure to decide on the chief of staff appointment immediately stems from left-wing officials and the left-wing establishment, which is concerned that Benjamin Netanyahu could return to power at any time. The assumption is that Netanyahu would prefer former Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir to lead the IDF. Everything has to do with Netanyahu, and no one is asking the opinion of, for example, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Halevi looks too much like someone picked out years ago for promotion to IDF chief. That’s something of a problem. He was GOC Southern Command at a time when the IDF was struggling with arson balloons from the Gaza Strip, sporadic rocket attacks and ongoing incidents on the border. These are precisely the incidents that shook up the public, and which the IDF opted to contain. The method of doing so was to exact a price from Hamas, mainly by hitting their infrastructure.
The definition of left or not left doesn’t fit here, and it might be good for a right-wing prime minister to have a chief of staff who balances him. But it’s no substitute for finding a systemic method of fighting Hamas. Halevi talked about the resilience of residents of the western Negev as a response to terrorism. The truth is, that’s no response.
Halevi has held all the top jobs. He knows the top political leaders and also some of the other leaders in the region. He was head of Military Intelligence, commander of the division stationed on the Lebanese border, a GOC and also deputy chief of staff. Zamir at least tried to respond forcefully to incidents at the Gaza border fence that were part of the Hamas-led “marches of return.” The left, and especially Haaretz, did not at all like that the IDF killed dozens of rioters to keep them from crossing the fence, including some who were armed and waiting to attack.
The left picked up Hamas’ slogans and got to work. Instead of talking about riots on the border, they talked about “marches of return.” They’d ask, “Why did you shoot?” and talk about “war crimes.” If the IDF chief should be someone who has the support of a certain kind of journalism, that’s an irrelevant and negative concern.
Zamir was Netanyahu’s military secretary. At the time, he had a certain level of access to the prime minister and was part of his cabinet along with Mossad head Yossi Cohen, former Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer and a few others. In those years, the cabinet’s ability to function waned due to two factors—one was Naftali Bennett and the other was Yair Lapid.
As an Armored Corps soldier, Zamir should represent the core values that the IDF has clearly neglected—logistics, discipline and rethinking the scope of the ground forces in light of the lessons of the Russia-Ukraine war. Only recently, reports said that the IDF has prepared a document detailing those lessons, and concluded that the next war must be won quickly, powerfully and in a way that will leave no doubt about who the victor was. The IDF suddenly realized that it was mistaken in thinking that ground wars were a thing of the past and that victory needed to come through defining specific goals. But this is no breakthrough in thinking, merely a return to the IDF’s traditional outlook. Perhaps it’s time to reformulate them for use against a “weak” enemy.
Amnon Lord is a veteran journalist, film critic, writer and editor.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.