Army Chief Is Someone We Can Trust in These Dark Days

IDF commander Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot is unlike many of his predecessors. He sees his job as to protect the country, not the interests of the prime minister.

Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus
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IDF chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
IDF chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus

Rafael Eitan was appointed the Israel Defense Forces’ 11th chief of staff on April Fools Day, 1978. Defense Minister Ezer Weizman had surprised everyone by nominating Eitan to Prime Minister Menachem Begin, explaining to close friends that the outgoing chief of staff, Mordechai Gur, tended to shoot his mouth off. “Finally, we’ll have a silent chief of staff,” Weizman said and, indeed, Eitan’s thank-you speech to the government was 18-words long. Over time, though, he turned into the biggest chatterbox the IDF had ever known.

Many of Israel’s 21 chiefs of staff became entangled in politics. Moshe Dayan would appear at (Labor Party forerunner) Mapai political conventions wearing his IDF fatigues. As the years passed, a host of chiefs of staff who wanted to enter politics arose, some even dreaming of becoming prime minister. Yitzhak Rabin’s rapid ascension to the top seat whetted the generals’ appetite. When asked about it, one chief of staff even responded, “If Rabin can, why not me?”

It is a little reminiscent of Napoleon’s saying that every private in the French army carries a field marshal wand in his knapsack. Indeed, some of the IDF’s most famous generals eventually scaled the highest political peak – men like Rabin, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak. Others served in the government and Knesset.

But not the current chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. The man is a “Golanchik” in every bone in his body (he served in the Golani Brigade after enlisting, eventually becoming commander of the renowned fighting unit), but rarely demonstrates such carnal lust. He doesn’t owe anything to the current prime minister. He doesn’t see his appointment as a springboard into politics. He barely appears in public at conferences and ceremonies. He is in no rush to show off his attributes.

He has a certain integrity to him, which means his main aspiration is to fulfill his role matter-of-factly and fairly. They offered him the chief-of-staff post before they offered it to the previous incumbent, Benny Gantz, but he declined. He said thanks, but no thanks, I need to mature. His ideology is to protect the country, not the interests of the prime minister. It’s no coincidence that someone has called him a pain in the settlers’ butt.

You won’t hear him making promises he can’t carry out, like, “We can rein in terror.” He knows what’s possible and what’s impossible. In his role as military secretary to various prime ministers, he said what he thought and didn’t act as a rubber stamp for the politicians.

Some 101 stabbing attacks have been committed by Palestinians over the past three and a half months, and we didn’t have even one intelligence warning, he said earlier this week. This was not a criticism of the military intelligence agencies; it was, though, implied criticism of the intelligence of our political leadership. Eisenkot is against West Bank closures and curfews, as well as home demolitions in response to acts of terror by young family members. When he says that terror tests our values regarding the way we deal with youngsters who commit such acts, he is actually talking about the need – by the army as well – to take into account the despair and desperation that Palestinians are feeling. For him, 100,000 Palestinians going to work in Israel is in the interests of both sides. As he puts it, “It is necessary to preserve the hope of the Palestinian population struggling to earn a living.”

He does not talk about the settlers – neither for, nor against them. And he is certainly no peacenik. He speaks as someone who knows what the army can and cannot do. He is not an orator, but rather a reformer. He thinks differently to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who sees only threats all the time but doesn’t combat the real dangers. Eisenkot, however, thinks there are risks in the Iran nuclear deal but also opportunities, and that Hezbollah is the biggest problem, not Iran.

It’s a good thing that in these days of terror, stabbings and hopelessness, in these days of spin and fearmongering, there is at least one person we can trust.

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