Deputy Chief of IDF Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Few were surprised when Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced Saturday night that Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot was tapped to become the 21st IDF chief of staff.
Already in 2011 then-defense minister Ehud Barak considered appointing Eisenkot, after his first preference, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, was rejected by the attorney-general. Eisenkot had served as Barak’s military attaché back in 1999 when Barak served as prime minister. Barak was, therefore, familiar with Eisenkot’s skills.
But Eisenkot turned down the offer, most likely becoming the first IDF commander in Israel’s history to do so. Eisenkot reportedly said at the time, “I feel I am ripe and ready to be the chief of staff, but the right thing now, for the IDF and the State of Israel, is Benny Gantz.” Gantz, who was more senior than Eisenkot, ended up becoming chief of staff.
Now Eisenkot’s time has come, and he is eminently qualified for the job. Philosopher Asa Kasher, the author of the IDF code of ethics, enumerates three criteria that the chief of staff must meet. Eisenkot has them all.
First, Eisenkot’s experience as a commander on the battlefield is long and rich. He was a company commander in the First Lebanon War in 1982; he commanded the Golani Brigade during the years of conflict in southern Lebanon before the Israeli pullout in 2000; and he commanded IDF forces in Judea and Samaria during the second intifada.
Second, Eisenkot has served as a member of the General Staff involved in the highest level of decision-making. He headed the IDF’s operations branch during the Second Lebanon War; he was OC Northern Command in the aftermath of the war; and he served as deputy to outgoing Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gantz.
Finally, Eisenkot has a reputation as a man with strong ethical principles. In 2012, the attorney-general cleared Eisenkot to be appointed as deputy chief of staff after finding that Eisenkot had only a marginal role in the Harpaz Affair, which involved a reportedly forged document meant to smear a candidate for the IDF chief position.
Eisenkot also has distinguished himself on a number of occasions as a level-headed and moderate military commander who is judicious about the use the force.
As a reserve division commander during the second intifada, for instance, he enforced more stringent rules of engagement on the border with Gaza to prevent noncombatant casualties, and he was the only member of the General Staff during the Second Lebanon War to openly oppose his chief, Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz.
As recounted in Captives of Lebanon by Ofer Shelah and Yoav Limor, Eisenkot strongly warned against attacking Lebanon and Hezbollah targets hastily and out of anger. He called unsuccessfully for larger reserve forces to be called up. And he also cautioned against a final attack at the very end of the 33-day war. Though he ultimately deferred to Halutz as his senior, Eisenkot’s positions were all vindicated after the fact, while Halutz was found to have made bad decisions that cost the lives of IDF soldiers.
Eisenkot is also said to be wary of launching a military strike on Iran’s nuclear weapons plants.
According to one report, as OC Northern Command Eisenkot sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he voiced his reservations against a solo Israeli attack. And according to a Channel 10 report, Eisenkot believes Israel should not strike Iran “unless the sword is at our throat.”
IDF commanders who know Eisenkot say he is an intensely private individual and a family man – he has five children – who has no intimate contacts with journalists or businessmen.
His extensive experience both as a combat commander and as a strategist, his clean record, his moderate disposition, his willingness to speak his mind even against consensus and his professionalism all make Eisenkot an ideal choice as the next chief of staff.