Former IDF chief of staff,
Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi believes it is the people who make up the IDF that are
its most important component. The soldiers, rather than vehicles, aircraft,
weapons and technologies, define the military the most, Ashkenazi said in his
Tel Aviv office in March as he looked back at the 40 years he spent defending
the State of Israel.
"The white hairs on my head came from worrying about
people I sent out on missions and waiting for their return," Ashkenazi
Born in 1954 to a mother who was smuggled out of Syria by the
Palmah, and a father who came to Israel from Bulgaria after surviving the
Holocaust, Ashkenazi grew up in Moshav Hagor in the Sharon district of central
In 1972, he joined the Golani infantry brigade as a draftee,
beginning a military career that would see him involved in every one of Israel's
wars since the 1973 Yom Kippur conflict.
Ashkenazi would go on to
participate in and lead daring counter-terrorism raids, including the Entebbe
hostage rescue operation, as well as operations against Hezbollah and
Palestinian terror groups in southern Lebanon.
In 1978, as a deputy
battalion commander, he was wounded in Operation Litani of 1978, which was
launched to strike at Palestinian terrorists in southern Lebanon. He returned to
the IDF in 1980 despite his injury, becoming head of Golani's Battalion 51. In
1987, Ashkenazi became commander of the Golani Brigade.
He continued to
rise through the ranks, holding posts such as head of the Armored 366th
Division, situated on the northern border, and head of operations at General
In 1998, he was appointed commander of the IDF
Northern Command. In 2002, he became deputy IDF chief of staff.
taking time off to pursue academic studies, he served as director-general of the
Defense Ministry. He was appointed IDF chief of staff in 2007, completing his
term in 2011.
In his office, turning his attention to the changes
sweeping the Middle East, Ashkenazi shared his evaluations of the new Middle
East taking shape, which he said can bring mixed fortunes for
"Israel's security situation is, in a certain sense, more
positive today than it was in the past. At the same time, there are new
potential threats on the horizon," he said.
The conventional, traditional
threat of organized Arab militaries threatening Israeli sovereignty has
declined, Ashkenazi pointed out. Syria is in the midst of a bloody civil war
that is fully engaging its military, and Egypt is busy with its own internal
instability, he said.
"And Iraq has vanished as a military threat," he
But while old threats are disappearing, new ones ¬ consisting of
missiles, rockets and terrorism ¬ are taking their place.
discount Hamas or Hezbollah, but neither of them can conquer the Negev or the
Galilee. When I was young, there was a Syrian threat to conquer Israeli
territory," Ashkenazi recalled.
On the other hand, the collapse of
regimes ¬ even hostile ones like Syria ¬ means that there is no longer a clear,
sovereign address from which a price can be extracted for transgressions against
Israel, the former chief of staff warned.
"When we chased the Fedayoun
[terrorists who launched raids into Israel from Jordan], we didn¹t just chase
the terrorists. We made the Jordanians pay a price, too. This can only be done
when there is a sovereign state next to you," he said.
immediate neighborhood lies the largest threat to Israeli security ¬ Iran and
its nuclear program.
"There is no doubt that Iran is striving to obtain
nuclear weapons. A decade ago, the world did not think this. Today, the whole of
the West understands this. That is an Israeli achievement," the former chief of
"A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat not only to
Israel but also to most other Middle East states, from Turkey in the north to
the Gulf Arab countries in the south," he continued. "Every effort must be made
to prevent the Iranians from going nuclear. This is being led by the West. At
least at the moment, it seems that the effort is international." The critical
question is whether a policy of diplomacy and sanctions will bring about the
desired result, he noted. The jury is still out on that question.
important that the threat of a military option is credible ¬ and it is a
credible threat, I believe. It's definitely from Israel¹s direction, and also
from that of the US. It will be hard for a US president who said such clear
things about the need for prevention, not containment, of Iran to go back on
that," said Ashkenazi.
Although it is reasonable to believe that
Washington is not bluffing about its aim to do what is necessary to prevent
Tehran from acquiring atomic bombs, Ashkenazi maintained that Israel cannot
simply rely on its superpower ally when dealing with the Iranian
"One of the lessons of the not too distant past is that Israel
cannot be dependent on the decision of another state ¬ even a big ally ¬ when it
comes to existential matters," he said. "Israel is doing the right thing in
safeguarding its ability. Every prime minister and government must have this
ability. Is it preferable that the US leads on Iran? Absolutely. Is it certain
that this will happen? Absolutely not," he said.
Meanwhile, as Jerusalem
waits to see how the international community deals with Iran, the Middle East
will continue to face instability as Arab societies overthrow the old order and
struggle to find new leaderships.
"Today, we see that many in Egypt are
rejecting [President Mohamed] Morsi.
This lack of certainty will
continue, as will the extreme rhetoric," Ashkenazi said. Ultimately, Israel¹s
neighbors will be too preoccupied with domestic troubles to pose a concrete
military threat to Israel in the near future, he predicted.
There is a
real chance that Syria will turn into a Somalia-type failed state. This has
serious implications for regional security, due to the Assad regime's massive
arsenal of chemical arms.
"There is no practical way to prevent all of
Syria's chemical weapons from falling into the wrong hands. If, for example, a
Syrian army general seeks to buy his freedom from the rebels, he could transfer
a suitcase with chemical weapons or Scuds. We have to prepare for these
scenarios. It¹s not realistic to assume that one can control every container of
chemical weapons. This doesn¹t mean the weapons will be used," said
Regional cooperation, involving Israel and other states
threatened by Syrian chemical weapons and instability ¬ Jordan, Turkey, Egypt
and Saudi Arabia, together with the US ¬ is the best solution to the
"This is what should be done. Is it being done? I don¹t know,"
New threats also include emerging dangers in the cyber
"This is a very exciting field. The IDF is developing techniques
in this area and will continue to do so," he said.
Ultimately, in order
to face the new, uncertain future, the IDF will have to invest in its personnel,
Ashkenazi asserted. This will ensure that Israel continues to develop its
capabilities "from the tactical to the strategic in a way that does not exist