Golan - Yaron Kaminsky - 14072011
Outgoing GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot, right, shaking hands yesterday. with his successor Yair Golan as IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz looks on. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Maj. Gen. Yair Golan took over as GOC Northern Command from Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot at a handover ceremony last night at Northern Command headquarters.

Eizenkot served in the post for four years and nine months, an exceptionally long period. Most senior Israel Defense Forces officers are reassigned after two years.

Last week a new commander was assigned to the brigade stationed near the Lebanon border, the fourth in the post during Eizenkot's term as GOC Northern Command.

Eizenkot's main priority in his post was rebuilding the Northern Command after the 2006 Second Lebanon War. With the exception of Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Eizenkot is the most senior of the General Staff officers during the war who are still serving. As head of operations under then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, he earned a reputation as a voice of pragmatism and reason during the war. He gave Halutz and then Defense Minister Amir Peretz a realistic picture of the limitations and prospects of ground-force operations as forces were deployed to attain various objectives.

But some military experts question whether Eizenkot did enough - pounding on the table loudly enough, and at the right time - to force the decision makers to be realistic about the war's prospects.

Eizenkot himself now seems to be asking this question of himself. The war is still a highly charged subject for him. In retrospect he believes it was more successful than it appeared when the fighting stopped.

He has said that the quiet that has prevailed on the northern border ever since is a dividend of the war.

His term as northern commander was marked by tense periods. One such time was the summer of 2007, when according to foreign news reports Israel bombed a Syrian nuclear facility.

Later on Hezbollah repeatedly threatened to avenge the assassination in February 2008 of one of its leaders, Imad Mughniyeh. Israel has never claimed responsibility for Mughniyeh's death.

In recent months the likelihood of a war in the north have apparently declined: Both Syria and Lebanon are preoccupied with their own domestic crises. But at times, especially during the Naqba Day protests in May, tensions in the north seemed poised to spill into Israeli territory. The Northern Command forces on the Syrian border were unprepared and allowed dozens of demonstrators to breach the border and enter Israeli territory. The IDF made extensive preparations for Naksa Day, but despite the preparations and the deployment of sharpshooters these protests ended with the deaths of 22 Palestinian and Syrian demonstrators (some due to the explosion of land mine that were triggered when they threw Molotov cocktails ).

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said this week that as GOC Northern Command Eizenkot demonstrated "a combination of talent, professionalism and a disdain for the gleam of the spotlight."

Eizenkot labored mightily to restore the command's high level of discipline and capabilities and thereby improve Israel's deterrence strength vis-a-vis Syria and Hezbollah. His command was characterized by a blend of tactical aggressiveness and strategic moderation. The IDF insisted on making its presence felt on every centimeter of sovereign Israeli territory along the Lebanese border.

But on strategic issues, such as Iran, Eizenkot remained on the moderate side of Israel's military-political spectrum.

Break from service

Eizenkot now takes a break from military service, for the first time in 15 years. He will return to school - he apparently seeks to earn a master's degree at the University of Haifa.

Barring unforeseen circumstances he is expected to be appointed deputy chief of staff in the summer of 2012, putting him in line to succeed Gantz's as chief of staff in February 2014.

The blind spot in the crystal ball relates to Eizenkot's relationship with Barak. He was Barak's military secretary when the latter was prime minister, and Barak often mentions his respect and admiration for Eizenkot.

Yet their relationship may have been soured by the Harpaz leaked document affair: Associates of Eizenkot's were linked to the apparent removal of the document from the chief of staff's office and its subsequent leading to Channel 2 television. Former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's stated preference for Eizenkot to succeed him may also have dimmed Eizenkot's luster on the part of Barak.