Opinion |

Israel's Best Soldiers Have Long Since Fled the Battlefield

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
IDF chief Aviv Kochavi earlier this month.
IDF chief Aviv Kochavi earlier this month. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

“Don’t you dare take from us the term 'the best,'” the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Aviv Kochavi, said this week during the graduation ceremony for a pilot’s course. He was responding to a billboard in Tel Aviv suburb Herzliya reading “the best for cyber,” a play on the old phrase “the best for the air force.”

"Don’t you dare diminish it," Kochavi said. "Don’t modernize it and don’t force it into the supposed new zeitgeist. The best are those who do something for someone, something good, important and moral, and without asking ‘what’s in it for me?’ A country facing many threats and six fronts at once knows how to appreciate its elite operational units and combat troops, and knows how to say loud and clear – the best are combat soldiers."

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Kochavi’s tirade was against the economic and cultural aggrandizement of high-tech and the cyberworld within it – maybe our main zeitgeist. “Quality” soldiers are recruited into technology units rather than combat units or the units that police the occupation. Kochavi's stance was powerful. The prioritizing of the cyberprofessions over combat, he said, “reflects a loss of values and weakens the foundations of society.” It’s that bad.

Kochavi’s aggressive speech bordered on hysteria because it reflects the opposite of reality – including the reality of the organization he leads. Kochavi knows that many candidates for service with desirable traits, who come from strong socioeconomic backgrounds, are plucked by the technology units. They don't have to chase stone-throwing kids in the West Bank or East Jerusalem in heavy bullet-proof vests under an oppressive sun or a driving rain.

The army is investing many resources in the technology units, providing its members with skills that train them as professionals in lucrative industries as they develop a very useful social network for the future. In contrast, combat soldiers, who risk their lives, filling their families with days and nights of worry, are released into the job market without any skills or training to help them earn a high salary.

After discharge, soldiers released from the army’s elite technology units earn salaries many times those of veteran workers in other industries. We can praise or condemn this cultural development, but the reality is undeniable.

The “loss of values” and “weakening of society's foundations” that Kochavi is talking about isn't the main problem regarding the “best to cyber” reality. This reality isn't being created, it’s already a fact.

Some soldiers sacrifice their bodies and sometimes even their lives in primitive face-to-face combat, something deemed inferior because it's physical and doesn't reflect the controlling of the consciousness. The moment these people understand how low their rank is in the new hierarchy, they might rebel against it. And they don’t love rebellion in the army, or for that matter in any other hierarchy.

Anyway, the way to test people's honesty on any subject is to examine the path down which they send their children. One of Kochavi’s daughters, for example, served in the elite 8200 intelligence unit. There’s nothing wrong with that, but maybe this is a good time to remember what Likud's Silvan Shalom told Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in 2014.

Shalom criticized the gearing of Mizrahi children into vocational schools, and Netanyahu replied: “You're living in the world of yesterday. Today, metalworkers and welders earn good money.” Shalom’s answer was astute: “Then let your son be a metalworker or a welder.” Or, in contemporary terms of the army: Let your son be a combat soldier.

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