On Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz visited northern Samaria to
inspect the military’s deployment in what is possibly the most tense region of
the West Bank.
Following a four-hour tour that included stops at Mount
Kabir, which provides expansive views of Nablus to the southwest and the Jordan
Valley to the northeast, as well as a military outpost near the settlement of
Yitzhar, Gantz got in his jeep to head back to the Kirya military headquarters
in Tel Aviv.
But after driving for just five minutes, he picked up the
phone, called the regional brigade commander and said: “My jeep has been hit by
a roadside bomb. I am injured and one of the soldiers with me has been
Within minutes, the road was swarming with additional forces,
alerted to the area in search of the “abducted” soldier. Gantz stood nearby, one
eye on his watch to see how long it was taking the forces to deploy and the
other eye on a map to see if the troops sent by the brigade commander were
familiar with the terrain and were following their orders.
drills such as this one have become Gantz’s trademark since he took up the post
as the IDF’s 20th chief of staff last February.
A few weeks ago, at the
end of a visit to the Ramon Air Force Base, when the base commanders thought he
was about to leave, he announced that the Syrian Air Force had infiltrated
Israeli airspace and was on its way to bomb targets in the South.
Gantz stood by, watching the clock as fighter jets were scrambled and pilots
suited up and jumped into their cockpits. He called off the surprise drill only
after the jets were already on the runway and about to take off.
small drills might not mean much from an operational perspective but they are
intended to help create a new mindset within the IDF. In today’s Middle East,
which is fraught with upheaval and instability, war could break out at a
moment’s notice. Israel needs to be prepared.
Had Gantz been
asked, he would have preferred to have been appointed chief of staff under
different circumstances. In his farewell briefing with the press in
November 2010, Gantz openly voiced his disappointment after losing the race to
succeed Gabi Ashkenazi to then OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav
But then Galant lost the post following allegations that he had
appropriated public land for his personal use and Gantz was called back from
civilian life to fill the role he had prepared for his entire career. Looking
back at his rich resume, one can understand why.
Before becoming chief of
staff, Gantz served as the deputy head of the IDF, as the military attaché to
the United States, as head of the Ground Forces Command, head of the Northern
Command, commander of the Paratroopers’ Brigade and commander of the Judea and
Samaria Division at the height of the second intifada.
returned to the Kirya at a time of unprecedented instability in the Middle East.
No one knows yet what will happen in Syria, Egypt, Turkey or Iran. And at the
same time there is Hamas in the Gaza Strip, where Gantz has ordered the Southern
Command to complete preparations for a large operation that could be launched
The current IDF intelligence assessment for 2012 predicts
that the chances one of Israel’s enemies will initiate a conventional war
against the Jewish state are slim. On the other hand, the chances that one of
the unstable fronts Israel faces will deteriorate and descend into conflict are
believed to be high.
It is within this unfavorable paradox that Gantz
needs to maneuver between the military’s needs as he sees them and the directives he receives from the political echelon
This was the case regarding the recent heated public disagreements
that erupted between him and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz over the defense
budget as well as reports that surface every so often about socalled tension
between him and Defense Minister Ehud Barak about the appointment of
Senior IDF officers close to Gantz play down the reports about
tension with Barak. Take the appointment of a new commander of the Israel
Air Force as an example. The current IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan will step
down in April and the two main contenders are Major-Generals Amir Eshel and
Claims that Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
were pressuring Gantz to appoint Locker were dismissed by the senior officers
who said that neither had ever spoken with the IDF chief about the
Claims that the generals’ opinions on the viability of a
strike against Iran were one of the key considerations in the appointment
process were also dismissed as nonsense since, while the next IAF chief might
need to command over such an operation, his opinion of whether or not it is the
right thing to do is irrelevant for the political echelon in its own
As reported this week in The Jerusalem Post
, in the past year
the IDF has significantly increased the number of covert operations it has
conducted overseas in comparison to the previous year. This is a direct result
of the way Gantz views the role the IDF should be playing at this time, even
when on the surface things seem quiet.
Gantz’s attraction to covert
operations, which might stem from his days serving as commander of the elite
Shaldag Unit, is also demonstrated by the recent round of appointments he made
to the General Staff. Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, appointed to become the next
head of the Central Command, is the former commander of Sayeret Matkal (General
Staff Reconnaissance Unit). Maj.- Gen. Noam Tibon was also an officer in the
unit. He is building a team of officers whose expertise is operating in the
This was also demonstrated by Gantz’s revolutionary decision in
December to establish the Depth Corps, a new unit that will oversee operations
deep in enemy territory.
The corps will be headed by Maj.-Gen. Shai
Avital, a former commander of Sayeret Matkal, who has been out of the IDF for
over a decade. Gantz selected Avital due to his expertise in deep covert
operations. The purpose of the corps will be to enable each unit – Sayeret
Matkal, Shaldag and Shayetet – to retain their unique capabilities and at the
same time create better coordination between them.
The establishment of
the corps is a “sign of the times,” according to one senior officer, and is
representative of the understanding that with the increase in the range of
missiles in Lebanon and Syria, the IDF needs to know how to operate in places
that are not just a drive across the border.
Gantz has also put a major
emphasis on improving the IDF’s cyber capabilities. Already as deputy
chief of staff in 2010, Gantz was the one who decided to divide the IDF’s cyber
units between Military Intelligence (offense) and the C4I Directorate (defense).
Gantz recently approved a multiyear plan to boost these capabilities, which is
still pending implementation due to the uncertainty surrounding the defense
In terms of military buildup, Gantz laid down several key
principles in the internal military discussions held ahead of the approval of
the Halamish multi-year procurement plan. In general terms, the plan is meant to
continue the upgrade of recent years to the IDF’s ground forces and at the same
time improve its strategic capabilities with the procurement of platforms like
additional F-35 stealth fighter jets and missile defense systems such as the
Arrow, Iron Dome and David's Sling.
Gantz has spoken in the past about
the correlation between Nazi Germany and the current Islamic regime in Iran,
whose nuclear program has turned into one of the main challenges he is facing as
chief of staff.
Gantz was involved in preparing the IDF for a possible
confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program as deputy chief of
staff. Before that, he was the military attaché to the US just months
after the controversial National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, in which the US
intelligence community shied away from concluding that Iran was working on a
nuclear bomb. Israel, the US and Europe now share the same assessment that Iran
is actively working on developing a nuclear weapon.
Gantz rarely speaks
openly about Iran. Last month he made international headlines when he told the
Knesset that more “unnatural events” could be expected in Iran. A day later, an
Iranian nuclear scientist was killed in a car bomb in Tehran. On Wednesday, in a
rare speech at the Herzliya Conference, he urged the West to prepare a credible
and viable military threat that could be used if and when it is
The current assessment within the IDF is that while Iran appears
to be determined to obtain the bomb, it is possible that a combination of
sanctions with tough diplomacy could succeed in further delaying Iran’s program
and even push off the need to use military action until 2013.
This is why
Gantz is investing in cultivating such a close relationship with Gen. Martin
Dempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who visited Israel two
weeks ago. There was the intimate dinner with spouses shortly after Dempsey
arrived – which included a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York
known Dempsey favorite) and led to hugs and warm pleasantries throughout the
following day of meetings.
After returning to the US, Dempsey gave an
interview to the National Journal
in which he admitted that Israel and the US
view the Iranian threat “differently.”
While the Israeli press had a
field day playing up so-called disagreements, the IDF was actually satisfied
that Dempsey’s visit was a success since he now understood how Israel views Iran
The relationship with Dempsey is viewed as being critical for
the IDF as it faces growing challenges in the region. Dempsey and Gantz’s
predecessors, Ashkenazi and Adm. Mike Mullen, spoke weekly and when the
Israeli Embassy was stormed in Cairo late last year, Gantz, in a single phone
call, was able to get Mullen on the phone to intervene.
When he was
drafted into the IDF in 1977, Gantz knew that his service would be
different. Of course, he did not know that one day he would become the
chief of staff, but because of his background and the images of his mother,
weighing just 20 kilograms on the day of her release from Bergen Belsen, his
service, he knew, would have special significance.
As the son of
Holocaust survivors, the survival of the State of Israel is something Gantz
takes seriously especially in light of the open threat from enemies like Iran.
As a result, he has spent the past year focused on ensuring that the IDF will be
prepared for anything looming on the horizon.
However, his term did begin with
one of the worst opening hands imaginable – a defiant Iran on the brink of
nuclear power, a revolution in Egypt, anarchy in Syria, a Hezbollah takeover in
Lebanon and an unprecedented Hamas military buildup in the Gaza
Even though a year has passed, the situations on all of these
fronts has not changed and some have even worsened. Gantz’s mission, though,
remains the same: to keep the IDF on its toes and prepared for the challenges
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