Analysis: Can generals lead a country?

If they win, they may change the leadership of the Jewish State. But former IDF chief of staffs and generals entering politics is nothing new.

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February 24, 2019 14:19
2 minute read.
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu listens to then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz in 2013.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu listens to then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz in 2013. . (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

 
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Israel’s 2019 elections belong to the generals.

Former IDF chiefs of staff Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, along with Yair Lapid, formed the Blue and White Party on Thursday and according to polls are going to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who considers himself “Mr. Security” – a real run for his money. Ya’alon held the post of chief of staff from July 2002 to June 2005, while Ashkenazi held the top post between February 2007 and 2011, followed by Gantz, who was the chief military officer between 2011 and 2015.

All three of them oversaw military conflicts between Israel and her enemies.

Between the three of them are decades of military and command experience, important for a country which is surrounded by turmoil and terrorist groups whose missile arsenals are aimed at Israel’s home front.

The party’s list also includes Orna Barbivai, the first woman to reach the IDF’s second-highest rank of major-general. She finds herself in the 10th spot out of a total of 52, meaning she has a good chance of sitting in the next Knesset.

They commanded soldiers and now they want to command the country.

Speaking for the first time following the merger of Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party and Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Gantz vowed to replace the ruling Likud, telling the crowd that “today we are changing the face of Israel.”

If they win, they may change the leadership of the Jewish State. But former IDF chiefs of staff and generals entering politics is nothing new.

Ya’alon, for example, served as defense minister under Netanyahu between 2013 and 2016.


Dozens of other top generals took part in politics in some way, playing leading political and social roles once they left the military, including: Moshe Dayan, Yigal Yadlin, Ezer Weizman, Rafael Eitan, Mordechai Gur, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz, Danny Yatom, Ami Ayalon, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Amram Mitzna, Yitzhak Mordechai, Yom-Tov Samia, Yoav Galant and now Tal Russo. The latter is running with Labor.

The list is long, and it’s not surprising. Israelis trust the IDF, and in turn its generals.

But the problem is that while these top military men may have succeeded while in uniform, many who tried their hand commanding in civilian life have failed, including in critical roles. Civilian leadership calls for a different skill set than commanding soldiers.

The nature of the military is in itself less complicated than civilian life, its spirit is not democratic and neither is its structure. Society is also more fragmented and polarized than the military.

During his speech on Thursday, Gantz said that while he and his partners “each have an ego and agenda,” the state of the country was more important to them and therefore he and Lapid were able to come together.

“In the past decade, something has gone wrong,” he said. “Israel has lost its way. The government has incited division [in Israeli society], it’s a government that divides and rules. We’re here to say, ‘enough.’ Instead of division, we want unity. Instead of extremism, we want dignity. Instead of fraction, we propose national reconciliation.”

But can generals who mostly dealt with issues related to security and defense really understand and fix issues which are deeply rooted in society?

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