Opinion

Israel’s Former Army Chiefs Not Hitting the Target in Politics

The question that Israelis now have to ask themselves is whether they would want Gantz, Barak or Ya’alon as chief of staff after seeing their abilities in civilian life

Then Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and then Defense Minister Ehud Barak attend a national earthquake drill held by the Home Front Command, in Holon, Israel, on October 21, 2010.
Moshe Milner / GPO

The assumption that anyone who managed to pave his way to the top of the Israel Defense Forces is capable, even worthy, of running the country requires meticulous study. Not because veterans failed as politicians but because we don’t know how they fared in the military. The public is captive to the perception that the army is the most organized, efficient and complex organization, so anyone appointed to head it must have unique abilities and deserve our total confidence.

But maybe he was merely someone the most senior politician wanted to honor? Maybe he was the man who knew how to be liked by the political leadership? The public, which will soon be asked to decide who will be the former IDF chief of staff or civilian to head the government, must drop the military glory.

Benny Gantz and Moshe Yaalon, both leaders of Blue and White party and former chiefs of staff, walk together after holding a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israel April 1, 2019.
\ CORINNA KERN/ REUTERS

When Ehud Barak bursts onto the center of the political stage and promises Israel the chance of its life to save itself from itself, he’s relying mainly on his record as chief of staff, because his list of political achievements is short. It’s said that he’s the only one who can talk to Benjamin Netanyahu not only eye to eye but looking down from above as a commander to his subordinate.

The halo of his military successes, which apparently climaxed in the 1973 operation that targeted Palestinian militants in Beirut, accompanies him like perfume. He speaks like a commander. He commands, orders, fumes and waves his hands in pincer movements as if he were at a briefing in the run-up to a military operation.

As the Barakian rhetoric splits the air like an arrow, scatters like a cluster bomb, strikes at anything that gets in its way or flies like a well-programmed cruise missile, he won’t stop until he destroys the target in the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street.

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, holds hands with Yair Lapid, Moshe Yaalon and Gaby Ashkenazi, in Tel Aviv. All of them except Lapid are former IDF chiefs of staff. On April 10, 2019.
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

But what do we know about the views of the man who sees himself as the next prime minister? Does he want a violent clash with Iran? Does he see the occupation of Gaza as the proper solution to this chronic infection, or does he actually support the economic rehabilitation of the enclave?

“During my term as prime minister we built four times as many settlements,” Barak boasted in 2010, when he explained that he didn’t believe that building settlements was an obstacle to peace. Is that still his opinion today, or does he perhaps believe, as he did in 2013, that Israel must adopt a unilateral policy and draw its border around the settlement blocs while approving plans for expanding six settlements?

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When he talks about forging a center-left bloc against Netanyahu, he forgets to mention that this solution also includes another former chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, about whom, along with Ashkenazi’s assistant, wife, spokesman and certain journalists, Barak said: “The worst thing is that such a gang operated in an unprecedented way in the history of the IDF and tried to interfere with processes that are the responsibility of their superiors, while using criminal tools.”

And what will become of his wrestling match with Moshe Ya’alon regarding the appointment that didn’t take place of Yoav Gallant as chief of staff? Ya’alon said that “the full responsibility for the flawed appointment of Yoav Gallant is Barak’s. He’s causing damage to the IDF and must be punished for that.”

Chiefs of staff like someone "to be punished” – as long as it’s not them.

Before our eyes the image of someone who seemed immune from harm, Benny Gantz, also crashed. This former chief of staff stars in caricatures as the bored man who doesn’t really feel like being prime minister, lacking an opinion and without personality.

Was this boredom born only when he entered politics, or was he bored already as chief of staff? The question that Israelis now have to ask is whether they would want Gantz, Barak or Ya’alon as chief of staff after seeing their abilities in civilian life.