Benny Gantz or Yoav Galant, or perhaps Gadi Eizenkot? In the race for the next chief of staff, the mirror is reflecting identical faces. Look closely at these three officers, listen to their words, review their biographies. You won't find any differences, even if you use a microscope. They were born in the same era, are products of the same assembly line, have the same style of speech and employ the same cliches. One was in an elite naval commando unit, one in the paratroops, one in the Golani Brigade. What's the difference?
They've spent all their lives in the Israel Defense Forces, of course, the organization in which no one is ever appointed from the outside. Decades in the barracks, combined with blind obedience, have produced the same prototype. Did any of them ever say something interesting? One sentence that was etched in the national memory? An original proposal? A speech that contained more than the arsenal of tired military cliches? Did any of them fight a celebrated battle? Now go choose which of them is best.
It's true that one of them (Galant ) is more tainted than his colleagues by Operation Cast Lead, which should have disqualified him for the post, but Eizenkot was quoted this week as saying that in the last incident in Lebanon the IDF didn't do enough killing. The conclusion: Enough of the job interviews with the defense minister. A coin toss will do. Eeny meeny minie mo. In any case he will look just like his predecessor, and just like his successor.
Look back. Does anyone see the differences there? Can anyone say whether Moshe Levy or Moshe Ya'alon were good or bad chiefs of staff? Dan Shomron and Amnon Lipkin Shahak? And had Matan Vilnai been appointed instead of Shaul Mofaz, would the IDF have been different? And what was Gabi Ashkenazi, the current chief of staff, so good at doing that warrants the praise being heaped on him? His silences? Cast Lead? The Turkish flotilla raid? The task of "rebuilding the IDF," which no one knows how to assess?
Aside from the wars, whether successes or failures - most or all of which brought Israel no benefit - it is difficult to judge the chiefs of staff over the years. Why? Because they're all from the same place, and it is frightingly uniform.
This uniformity is not inevitable. Even a military organization, built on strict authority and discipline, does not have to produce such uniform and carbon-copy commanders. Even a big, conservative, complex and cumbersome organization like the IDF does not have to run so mechanically. You don't have to be thinking of a subversive chief of staff to yearn for a chief of staff who will think outside the box, who will propose a different mode of behavior to the political leadership, for a change.
The mediocrity isn't inevitable, and neither is the drabness. When have we had a brilliant, original chief of staff? Really daring? Every time a chief of staff or a general (or a head of the Shin Bet or Mossad ) takes off his uniform, the naked truth emerges, and it is usually not flattering. Most of the chiefs of staff and generals, though not all of them, were revealed in their civilian lives to be mediocre figures, to say the least. It's hard to believe, but for years the most powerful posts in the country have been held by dull figures.
True, we shouldn't wax nostalgic about the glory days when generals were considered gods until the Yom Kippur war came and exposed their falsity, but would it be too much to expect the chief of staff and the generals to be a cut above everyone else? To expect that the army be led by an impressive figure? A chief of staff who thinks and doesn't just declaim, someone who shakes up the army and doesn't just maintain it? And does anyone doubt that the IDF has caused Israel a considerable amount of harm in recent years? That the number of investigative commissions set up following its operations suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong with it? Is that not enough to seek a chief of staff who can be an agent of change?
Soon the Galant document affair, trivial as usual, will be forgotten, and Galant, Gantz or Eizenkot will become a lieutenant general. You can bet that none of them will bring any change. All will remain the same: a celebrated operational success here and a failure being investigated by a commission there, as the people's army and its commanders continue on their way - depressingly, and dangerously, on autopilot.
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