Russo and Ashkenazi - Eli Hershkowitz
GOC Southern Command Tal Russo and the Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi in October. Photo by Eli Hershkowitz
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In this photograph of Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi presenting the Southern Command insignia to incoming GOC Major General Tal Russo, there is much pride and laughter and puffed-out chests and toothy grins. It was taken on October 21, 2010 by Eli Hershkovitz in the courtyard of the command base. Also present at the ceremony, besides Askhenazi and Russo, was Yoav Galant, the outgoing GOC and now chief of staff-designate. Around the time the photo was taken, and certainly in the months that have passed since then, the antipathy between Ashkenazi and Ehud Barak erupted into an all-out, undisguised and serious conflict in which the police and the state comptroller are involved.

But right then, at the time of the ceremony, everyone was content, and the murky Harpaz affair hadn't fully come to light yet, nor the ties between him and the Ashkenazi camp. In any case, it wasn't possible to say who was the victim of a plot and who was concocting false accusations. And the public had yet to become aware of the magnitude of the estate of the candidate for chief of staff, with its four domes planted with much pomp amid the hedgerows, as if braced for an attack from the vassals at any moment. Nor was it known at the time how he managed to obtain it and the groves around it.

At the time the photo was taken - which already seems so long ago - it was still a sure bet that Ashkenazi would easily find political partners after his cooling-off period and that Barak was on his way out. But meanwhile, the defense minister has given Labor the kind of kick one gives a dead horse - and elections are farther off than ever.

But if you were to shake this photo, all these future complications would slide off it like so many dry leaves, because Lieutenant General Ashkenazi - who today really doesn't have many reasons for joyful laughter - was really pleased at the time. His smile here is full and broad, and his bushy eyebrows lift his forehead - perhaps he just made some joking remark, some witty comment - and it looks like the burden of the high command has been lifted from him. In terms of his open, unbridled laughter, this is one of the best photographs ever taken of him.

The other subject of the photo, Maj. Gen. Russo, is also smiling - but not in the same way. His broad chest and straight shoulders fill the entire left side of the photograph; he is a head taller than Ashkenazi. Russo juts out his chin and tries to suppress the smile that is about to spread across his handsome, high-cheekboned face.

Russo is a soldier. A model soldier. The only major general in the IDF who did not go through an officers' course, who is said to have legs strong enough to lift a Jeep, who is called "Rambo," a former kibbutznik and former basketball player, a bachelor who by his own word is not lonely, whose dense hair, styled in a straight line above his forehead, turned white on just one side of the part down the middle of his scalp. With his white undershirt peeking out of his dress uniform and veins throbbing in his neck, the incoming GOC Southern Command looks visibly honored, conscious of the gravity of the moment, and humbled by the occasion. It is impossible to conceive of even a small cloud of subterfuge hanging over his erectly-held head. Impulses, ambition and aggression - all these belong to the person he is replacing and the person granting him his new rank.

And at this festive moment, this professional and personal moment for Russo, from down beyond the Erez checkpoint, a sound is heard: the ever-present sound of the big, sealed-off, battered, overcrowded and seething prison camp that refuses to buckle under completely - the prison camp that Tal Russo will see day in and day out, and whose name is never mentioned at these ceremonies.