President Shimon Peres labeled outgoing IDF chief Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi “one of the best chiefs of General Staff that Israel has ever known” during a farewell gathering of the General Staff on Monday at Beit Hanassi.

One of the key architects of the defense establishment, Peres told Ashkenazi that it had been his privilege to know all 18 of Ashkenazi’s predecessors, and looking back, he was in a position to a make a true assessment of all of them.

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Turning to face Ashkenazi, Peres said, “Gabi, your contribution to the security of Israel is unique, excellent and praiseworthy. You were one of the best chiefs of General Staff that Israel has ever known.

This time, I salute you.”

Peres recalled that in 1996, when, in his capacity as prime minister and defense minister, he had promoted Ashkenazi to the rank of major-general, there had been no doubt in his mind that Ashkenazi would one day be the chief of General Staff.

Peres’s impression of Ashkenazi at that time was that he was daring but cool-headed; that he knew how to tread the fine balance between strategy and tactics; that he was beloved by his commanders and officers alike; that he paid attention to details, yet saw the bigger picture; and that values were no less important to him than deeds.

The four years in which Ashkenazi served as IDF chief were fraught with new challenges, said Peres. Terrorism had to be fought not only on the ground, but also from the air and the sea; new methods of fighting had to be employed, and new coalitions had to be formed.

Ashkenazi had also had to expand his horizons from a regional to a global concept, as a result of which he formed many close relationships with commanders in other countries and was able to repair relations that had been damaged in the wake of the Second Lebanon War and Israel’s operations in Gaza.

“He restored the morale of soldiers, the confidence of the nation and the feeling of the government that there was someone on whom it could rely,” the president said.

For his part, Ashkenazi thanked Peres in his opening remarks for his personal contribution over so many years to the defense establishment and to the IDF.

“I do not stand alone when I salute you,” he said, including all soldiers in all branches of the IDF who were well aware that no one had left as deep an imprint within the army, or had done as much to create an Israeli defense force. It is a contribution that touches every aspect of the IDF, said Ashkenazi.

He expressed appreciation for the president’s personal support, for his ever-willing ear, for his wisdom and for a shoulder to lean on.

Ashkenazi declared that he was completing his tour of duty proud and satisfied that the IDF was in the safest and most professional of hands.

Ashkenazi’s successor-designate Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz was not present, because, according to IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu, until his appointment was finalized, Gantz was not a member of the General Staff forum.

Without naming Gantz, Peres nonetheless offered his “informal” good wishes and congratulations, and said that when it was appropriate, he would congratulate him formally.

Peres presented Ashkenazi with a small desktop bust of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, engraved with the inscription: “To Gabi, who walks in his footsteps with courage, with daring and with valor.”

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