IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi is one of the most impressive decision-makers in Israel. His career is straight out of a military journal, he wears a paratrooper’s red beret and brown boots, gives eloquent speeches about values in an authoritative voice, and looks like a movie star born to play James Bond. He’s been a vegetarian since high school, his sister and brother are erudite, and he certainly is too.
Kochavi is the beautiful face of Israel, the type Israelis love to love. He is good old Eretz Israel, the salt of the earth, the best of our sons and all that jazz. He speaks of multiyear plans, doesn’t hate and doesn’t rant – a commander and a gentleman. He established the IDF’s innovation division, and even a multi-dimensional unit, and promoted a conceptual document to meet the challenges.
I met him years ago for an off-the-record interview and he gave the clear impression of a thinking officer, the next Ehud Barak. Now, too, he is slated to be the next Benny Gantz, after Gadi Eisenkot. In other words, a man of great promise; Kochavi, after all, was born to greatness.
I was somewhat pleased over his appointment as chief of staff. Perhaps finally someone would change the course of this heavy, arrogant, long-decaying ship. After his two and a half years as chief of staff, one can say Kochavi leads an army that has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
Military assessments must be left to the commentators, all of whom say in any case that every officer is an “esteemed officer.” But in two connected areas Kochavi appears to be no different from his predecessors, and perhaps even worse.
He heads a greedy army that sees no state, no social needs, no collapsing hospitals, no raging pandemic, no insufferable traffic jams. There’s just the army, the security budget, scandalous pensions and to hell with everything else.
True, society and the media, which built this golden calf, lie when they say that if the army is harmed, the state will be destroyed overnight. True, Israel’s successive governments lent a hand to the lie that any budget can be slashed but one. There’s no limit to the amount of money that is poured out. Who would harm security? And who would serve in the army without a sky-high pension?
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This pompous disregard for the needs of the country isn’t restricted only to demands for money. It’s the deepest line of thought in the army, which Kochavi, the promising one, hasn’t changed one bit.
That line of thought also guides the army in fulfilling its missions. Just as there is no state and no other needs in the budget, there’s no Lebanon, no Syria and no Iran. The IDF can do as it wishes with them. There’s no international law and no international community, there’s no Palestinian people and they have no rights. It’s the same boastful spirit seen in discussions of the budget, and there’s no stopping it.
These things were more clear than ever with the IDF’s renewed rampage in the territories. On Friday soldiers killed another Palestinian protester in the village of Beita. It’s not Friday without a Palestinian shot to death by the army.
When I was in Beita last week, they were still mourning the previous fatal victim, the village plumber who had gone down to repair a broken valve and the IDF killed him and spirited away his body, which still hasn’t been returned.
Now Beita is mourning a father of five who protested on Friday against the theft of the land of his village by the criminal outpost Evyatar. A few days earlier, Kochavi’s paratroopers killed a teenage boy in Nabi Saleh, and their comrades killed a boy in Beit Ummar.
Kochavi has been silent about all of this. His predecessor, Eisenkot, would sometimes at least distance himself from the actions of his soldiers: “You don’t have to empty a magazine on a girl with scissors in her hand,” he said. His successor doesn’t say even that.
From Kochavi’s point of view, let the soldiers empty as many magazines as possible against as many Palestinians as possible. Let them kill a teenage boy and a plumber, a protester and a shepherd, he has nothing to say about it. An army commander who has nothing to say about this methodical killing contributes even more to the army’s degradation.