Israel’s Gantz Shows He's the Right Man to Lead the Army

Benny Gantz has a rare opportunity to put the Israel Defense Forces back in line with society - like reducing military service by 2024.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Amir Oren
Amir Oren

The goal: to shorten compulsory military service for men to two years by 2024. Is it practical? The task of crafting the question and plotting the vision, if not the answer, rests in the hands of IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who’s like an upgraded version of Moses.

When he was deputy chief of staff, he stood on Mount Nebo, looked out at the promised land and was surprised to receive the order to back off. He was then whipped off his motorcycle and handed the steering wheel of Israel’s war machine - he knew how to run it; perhaps even more importantly, knew how to ensure that it wouldn’t start running when it wasn’t necessary. The chaos in the region has given him a rare opportunity to put the Israel Defense Forces back in line with Israeli society.

Facing Iran, Lt. Gen. Gantz both holds Benjamin Netanyahu back and serves as his alibi. When the chief of staff doubts that we need a military strike, the politicians are hesitant to demand one from the prime minister. At the same time, Gantz is surely a man of the system and follows orders. As far as Gantz is concerned, the prime minister’s military secretary serves the prime minister first and foremost; only then is he subordinate to the chief of staff. If the military secretary were ordered to hide a political maneuver from the army, the chief of staff wouldn’t chastise him for it.

There’s power in the humility Gantz displays toward other officers and the government, maybe because he’s no megalomaniac, and maybe even because he had the traumatic experience of being labeled a less-fitting candidate for chief of staff than his competitors and only got the job at the last minute, like a stand-in groom.

There’s no need to suspect that he’s after glory. When he presented a document on his platform for the future, IDF 2025, he made sure to praise and thank his subordinates who worked with him, generals Yair Naveh and Gadi Eizenkot. Even after being on the job for two and a half years, Gantz doesn’t claim that he knew everything when he took office, only a few dozen steps from the deputy’s office (“30 steps for me or 50 for Gadi,” he said recently, joking about the lengths of their legs).

In terms of Iran, Gantz has been peeling back the propaganda and getting to the heart of the mystery. He has two frameworks for debating the issues – a small group of about eight experts and a panel of some two dozen officials serving in various positions. Every issue is weighed carefully and suspiciously, but without making declarations. The fact often brought up is that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei let Hassan Rohani be elected president, and later let him present internal Iranian conflicts concerning a nuclear deal – a respectable solution, as opposed to succumbing to foreign pressure.

Negotiations with the Palestinians are like chemical weapons – as long as the gas components are kept separately from the missiles, they aren’t a threat. There are signs that there could still be a violent outbreak in the territories. As long as the political outlook is realistically linked to Israel’s security interests, it won’t be the IDF that helps the right-wing politicians spoil the efforts.

So again, I’m talking about service based on equality, secular or ultra-Orthodox, men and women, two years only, and fair compensation for more than that. Israeli society must choose; compromise will ease the burden on its sons and daughters. An eternal war will have an eternal price. Voting on this subject is the duty of elected officials, and when they abstain, so does the IDF.

The Economic Arrangements Bill suggests eliminating IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz's discretion over pensions.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

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