The 20th IDF Chief of Staff, Again

Principal responsibility for the IDF in-fighting rests with Barak and Netanyahu, but Ashkenazi is not exempt from blame.

The Benjamin Netanyahu government became the first administration to appoint the next IDF chief of staff twice yesterday. Pending authorization by the senior appointment vetting committee headed by retired Judge Jacob Turkel, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz will in another few days become the Israel Defense Force's newest top commander. The Turkel Committee should this time work more carefully than it did in consideration of the last IDF chief of staff nominee, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, though Gantz is not expected to face any irresoluble obstacles.

When Gantz becomes the 20th person to take the army's reins, the government will pay farewell to the outgoing chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, who took significant steps to enhance the IDF's strength since February 2007, first under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and then under Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Netanyahu.

illustration - Amos Biderman
Amos Biderman

The major operational events of his four year term were the reported attack on the nuclear reactor in Syria (September 2007 ), and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, alongside many other actions, some secret and others public knowledge.

Training schedules of ground forces were intensified and improved, owing partly to the relative quiet on Israel's borders.

Ashkenazi's accomplishments were blemished during the last year by ugly in-fighting among the army's top brass. Principal responsibility for this rests with Barak and Netanyahu, who did not monitor what was happening closely enough; but Ashkenazi is not exempt from blame.

The final accounting can only be done when the State Comptroller's Office finishes its examination of affairs connected to Boaz Harpaz. Yet, with this qualification, Ashkenazi deserves to be remembered as a successful IDF chief who was respected by soldiers, partly because he did not make haste to endanger them needlessly.

His former deputy, Gantz, can redeem the slogan that has been a cliche ever since Yitzhak Rabin replaced Golda Meir as Prime Minister: continuity and change. In many senses, Gantz, who helped Ashkenazi draft the IDF's long-term action plan, will ensure continuity, and prevent more shocks during a time of crisis. In other ways, he must adapt the army so that it can face new regional, global, social, technological, budgetary and military circumstances. The ultimate test of a chief of staff is how he commands the IDF at a time of war. Should the government act wisely, Gantz will be spared this test.