The Top Commander’s Admonishment

Israel Harel
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Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi speaks at a ceremony for IDF officer graduates, January 2021.
Israel Harel

The IDF chief of staff’s objection to the expected announcement of the United States’ return to the nuclear accord with Iran was necessary, and it is good that it was stated in public. The anger it provoked (“He exceeded his authority!”) among former defense officials as well as in the media only underscores the correctness of the shift that Aviv Kochavi has been trying to bring about since the start of his tenure, the gist of which is to shake off this habit of containment and acceptance of enemy initiatives – on the operational as well as the declarative front – that has characterized Israel’s defense policy in the last decades.

Unlike his predecessors, Kochavi, as he announced when he assumed the position, aims for a (“killer”) strategy of clear victory. In his mind, the previous policy – or mentality – was responsible for the Israeli home front being exposed to countless rockets from the south and east and especially from the north. And worst of all: Iran is closer than ever to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

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The main blast of artillery Kochavi is taking for the revolution he is leading – something that lends him the stature of military leader – is coming from his former colleagues; those who are unable to admit their mistakes, including mistakes that could lead tens of thousands of Israelis to be harmed. In his speech, Kochavi said that “on the day of reckoning, many missiles will fall on us.” And upon whom does the blame fall for the fact that even marginal terror organizations possess a lethal rocket option? On the politicians, military men and media who promoted the doctrine of “restraint is power” and allowed the terror organizations to arm themselves from outside sources and later, due to the same irresponsible attitude, to attain the capability to produce such weapons independently.

As Kochavi said, the IDF is preparing itself for that future missile attack, but at the same time he acknowledges that the enemy, such as Hezbollah, is dictating a strategic draw that prevents us from landing a preemptive blow that could save thousands of lives and prevent the destruction of military and civilian infrastructure.

As noted, one of the main complaints by all the “former officials” and “experts” on American affairs is against Kochavi’s “chutzpah” – for daring to warn the Biden administration against returning to the nuclear accord. Such warnings, they say, if made at all, are only done discreetly, in private conversations. Saying such things in public is harmful. It is not the military man’s role to voice criticism of the one and only superpower that’s friendly to Israel, without which (this, too, has been said) “we have no existence.”

The leading voices in the uproar against Kochavi were either silent before or encouraged the “exceeding of authority” by then-IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi when he waged a public campaign, along with top military leaders and the media, against Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy on Iran’s nuclear program. The same was true of Meir Dagan, who held a secret dialogue with the CIA chief that defied his legal superior, the prime minister. So the criticism of Kochavi’s “independence” attests to the depths of the denial and hypocrisy reached by those who were tasked with our security.

In addition to expressing concerns once more about the nuclear accord, Kochavi, if you will, let the administration know that the Israeli defense establishment has returned to sanity and is acting in accordance with the law – and, most important of all, it answers exclusively to the authority of the government – and that the new U.S. administration, when it sets about refreshing its policy in the Middle East, should take this significant shift into account.

When Washington sees that the IDF has changed direction and is of one mind with the government and not with the U.S. administration, it likely will not return to the accord, just as it did not cancel the transfer of the embassy to Jerusalem or the recognition of the Golan Heights as an inseparable part of sovereign Israel.

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