In a speech to the Institute for National Security Studies on Sunday, Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot admitted candidly that several developments that have unfolded in Israel and the region in recent years had caught the IDF by surprise.
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These include the stabbing attacks that characterize the current wave of terror, for which the army had no prior intelligence, as well as the disintegration of regimes and states in the Arab world. Also unanticipated were public demands in Israel for social justice, reflecting calls for a different distribution of national resources and a reduction of the budget segment allocated to defense.
These words constitute a courageous admission of the limitations facing the IDF, against a backdrop of false scenarios disseminated by politicians, according to which military solutions are the all-embracing response to every problem.
Eisenkot’s approach to the policing of the West Bank also exhibits wisdom and a sober approach, belying the popular image of military men as hot-headed and trigger-happy. Eisenkot emphasized the necessity of distinguishing between murderers who military intelligence failed to identify and warn about in advance, and a population intent on pursuing their lives in a non-violent fashion.
He expressed his determined opposition to closures and further collective punishment, which puts a heavy burden on innocent Palestinians. He added that a reality in which 120,000 Palestinians go to work every day is in Israel’s interest.
Of additional importance in Eisenkot’s speech were his words regarding the role of the defense establishment in keeping Israel a democratic state. “We are in a period replete with threats but also with opportunities. We must preserve Israel as a democracy, an island of stability, of military and scientific prowess, cleaving to our values” he said.
At a time when extremist elements and advocates of force retreat from democratic values, Eisenkot’s stance is notable for a statesmanship that is absent in Israeli diplomacy and politics.
The army chief’s speech summarizes a very successful first year in office. For the first time since 2007, a chief of staff has managed to outline, set a budget for and launch a focused, multi-year program designed to adapt resources to the tasks facing the IDF. In order to coordinate expectations, he has formulated a binding strategic document for the IDF and revealed it to the public.
Also noteworthy was his determination to take the “Jewish consciousness” unit out of the military rabbinate’s hands and place it in the army’s manpower directorate, in order to limit the influence of the rabbinate within the army. That was done in the face of pressure exerted by Zionist religious rabbis and by MKs from Habayit Hayehudi.
The chief-of-staff is the most important member of the executive branch, but his impact on policy formation is limited. The sobriety of the positions expressed by Eisenkot only highlight the glaring fact that politicians are avoiding making any decisions that will lead Israel into an era of peace, security and social justice.