A Leader or Just a Foreman?

Half a year after he took office, there is no sign that Ashkenazi is providing the IDF with leadership that will return it to the moral high road.

IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi on Monday launched the Israel Defense Forces' five-year plan. A military organization needs a plan, as a framework for thinking and working, even though it is clear that the IDF will have to diverge from the plan as time goes on, as circumstances change. Ashkenazi's plan includes a large number of tanks, planes, threats, challenges and changes. It is entirely lacking the moral dimension, which breathes life into a body. Ashkenazi is commanding an army that has yet to rehabilitate its immune system, an army consumed by intrigue and back-stabbing.

Half a year after he took office, there is no sign that Ashkenazi is providing the IDF with leadership that will return it to the moral high road. He is a foreman who is not rising to the level of a leader. His role is limited to working field units very hard, using the method of the auxiliary company in the Golani Brigade: "Keep the soldiers busy until they fall off their feet, so they won't keep you busy."

Ashkenazi is the first general in the history of the IDF who was brought back from retirement to serve as chief of staff, the government's expression of non-confidence in all of the standing army's generals. His worldview, and he did have one at least during his years as a civilian, is concealed. As opposed to officers such as Rafael Eitan and Shaul Mofaz, who arrived at the chief of staff's headquarters famous for their reticence and whose tongues began to wag the moment they assumed the rank of lieutenant general, Ashkenazi spoke before but is silent afterwards.

At present, he can make do with speeches, slogans and background discussions that do not demand a public price of him. When it comes to interviews, which are liable to confront him with the need to respond to tough questions, Ashkenazi refuses. Whether he is afraid of providing material for TV's current-events satire "A Wonderful Country" or is waiting for Friday, the day the Winograd Committee report is releases, the result is media silence and a paucity of discussion between the chief of staff and the soldiers (who are exposed to their senior commanders mainly via the media), their families and civilians in general. Silence has turned out to be such a dizzying success that even in the police force, the regular imitator of the IDF, it has been adopted by new Commissioner Dudi Cohen.

The five-year plan is an admission of previous plans' failures, including the one in which Ashkenazi was a senior partner as the deputy of former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon. In the test of Lebanon, it was proven - as its critics claimed even earlier - that the compromise among constraints, risks and resources suffers from an underinvestment in various components, such as fighting against short-range rockets. The failures in building the military force did not prevent him from being appointed chief of staff; the overall balance of his performance over the years was taken into account. Such a balance was denied the commanders of the fighting in Lebanon, who were pushed out. Ashkenazi has not even bothered to speak to all of them since his appointment as chief of staff.

Last week, Ashkenazi decided to appoint Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg as commander of the Gaza Division. This decision was greeted by harsh and justified criticism. Earlier, Eisenberg was considered promising, but he failed as the commander of a division in Lebanon. Were the IDF to use uniform, non-arbitrary criteria, Ashkenazi would have looked for another division commander for Gaza, or left the present commander, Moshe (Chico) Tamir, in place for another year, and returned to active service commanders who were pushed out due to the whim of their superiors, who themselves left or have been removed since then.

As expected, the criticism of Eisenberg's appointment focused both on his functioning and on his family-brigade relationship, as the nephew of General (res.) Uri Sagi, one of Ashkenazi's patrons in the Golani Brigade and still today. Ashkenazi is remaining silent. He owes nobody an accounting. The appointment is a message, and woe to the officer who insists on not understanding it. Instead of reward and punishment, a righteous person may suffer whereas a crony may prosper, and they are applying cosmetic makeup, training exercises, to improve its appearance instead of properly rehabilitating the military body, which is being eaten away from within.