Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was sworn in as Israel 20th chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces yesterday, capping a tense period in which the defense establishment tussled over who to replace Gabi Ashkenazi with.
Gantz was sworn in amid much pomp at the Prime Minister's Office, and following the ceremony the top brass traveled to Tel Aviv where Gantz reviewed the honor guard and the generals of the General Staff Headquarters under his command.
"I think I know where I am going and by the remarks now I'm also starting to sense what I'm getting myself in to," Gantz said. "I do so willingly, judiciously, out of an understanding of how to operate."
Ashkenazi, who had scuffled, sometimes publicly, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak over who to appoint to head the army, took one last implied jab at his boss while still in uniform, telling Gantz, "I am sure you will have cooperation from the other side of the tower," during another ceremony in the Chief of Staff's office on the 14th floor of army headquarters.
Afterward, Ashkenazi thanked Barak, telling him, "You sat in this room more than all of us."
Barak warned Gantz that the job he was assuming was not easy.
"This position is a lonely one, the loneliness is different from anything you've had before," he said. "It is grave and it is part of the burden, and there is a price in terms of family, of time and of energy."
Ashkenazi was mobbed by hundreds of soldiers upon driving out of the army headquarters complex in central Tel Aviv. Twice he got out, hugging and shaking hands with thrilled soldiers, before driving home to Kfar Sava.
Before leaving, Ashkenazi presented Gantz with a palpable reminder of the responsibility he was assuming.
"I want to give you something that is with me at all times, the up-to-date book of targets in the Gaza Strip," Ashkenazi said as he gave Gantz a thin notebook with a pale-blue cover containing hundreds of potential targets associated with Gaza terror organizations. Every few days, the chief of staff must approve the Israel Air Force's retaliatory strikes after rockets or mortar shells hit the Negev. The notebook helps him to keep abreast of the nature of the targets. "Hold tight to the book and good luck to you," Ashkenazi said.
The handover ceremony was closed to the media but recorded by IDF Spokesperson's Unit photographers, who broadcast the footage live to Israeli television. IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu warned Ashkenazi that he was on air when he brought out the notebook, but Barak reassured him that the resolution was too low to endanger anybody.
The mood in the office was mostly jovial, with many of Gantz's friends and family present.
"In a moment the party will be over and the work will start. Most of the thanks goes to Gabi, who just left, for his enormous contribution, and now we must continue the work," Gantz said.
Addressing Gantz and his wife, Revital Gantz, Barak spoke of the journey the new chief of staff had taken to get to this office.
"Today is Valentine's Day, and I am sure that two years ago, when [Benny] was the military attache in the United States, and you were enjoying the sales, you never imagined that you would be standing here today, but wondrous are the ways of the Lord," he said.
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