Far-right Leader Slams Israeli Army Chief, Accuses Him of ‘Blatant Politicization’

Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich urged for a lengthier cooling-off period for army generals who wish to enter politics to keep the Israeli army ‘united.’ Outgoing Defense Minister Gantz backed Chief of Staff Kochavi, saying he is not a ‘trainee who merely obeys orders’

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Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich.
Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Religious Zionism head MK Bezalel Smotrich accused the Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi on Tuesday of “introducing blatant politicization into the IDF,” after the Israeli army chief called Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to express his concern about the transfer of power from security forces to far-right politicians.

In response to the call made on Monday, Smotrich added that there should be a law mandating a ten-year cooling-off period before a retired chief of staff may enter politics if one wants to “keep the IDF united as the people’s army, in consensus and out of politics.”

Outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz responded to Smotrich, saying that if one wants to keep the IDF united as the people’s army, they shouldn’t pass “evasion laws” from joining the army, “tear apart the Defense Ministry,” or get involved in army appointments.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, in 2021.Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

The chief of staff, Gantz continued, is not a “trainee who merely obeys orders,” rather, “it’s his job to express his professional opinion” against actions that jeopardize the security and efficiency of the IDF, according to Gantz.

“The efforts to intimidate the current chief of staff and his successor and to silence critical and open discourse are disturbing and dangerous,” Gantz added.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the head of Otzma Yehudit, backed Smotrich’s argument for lengthier cooling-off periods for retired chiefs of staff, noting that “in recent years, we have seen a parade of army chiefs who rushed into politics after a short cooling-off period,” which caused a “genuine concern among the public that the IDF had become politicized.” The chief of staff’s behavior “who aspires to integrate into political life, will be aimed at gaining points with the public, which will help him politically.”

The Knesset approved on Tuesday amendments to the Basic Law on the Government which would allow for two ministers to serve in one government office. The legislation paves the way for Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich to appoint a minister in the Defense Ministry who will oversee the West Bank, including responsibility over the civil administration and coordination of government operations there, as agreed between him and Netanyahu ahead of the government being sworn in on Thursday.

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