Caution to Gantz, Ashkenazi: A history of failure for former IDF chiefs

There have been only two IDF chiefs of sfaff who rose to become prime minister.

January 13, 2019 19:49
4 minute read.
Caution to Gantz, Ashkenazi: A history of failure for former IDF chiefs

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz. (photo credit: THE 5TH DIMENSION)


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One of the greatest myths in Israeli politics is that the best item to have on your resume if you want to be prime minister is having been chief of staff of the IDF.

In fact, there have been only two IDF chiefs of staff who rose to become prime minister: Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, - and Barak was the shortest serving prime minister in Israel’s history.

Going through the political history of Israel’s 20 full-fledged chiefs of staff who preceded retiring 21st chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot should make new politician Benny Gantz and possible political recruit Gabi Ashkenazi proceed with caution. (This doesn’t count Yitzhak Hofi, who was acting chief for just 13 days in 1974.)

The only IDF chiefs among the 20 – prior to Gantz and Ashkenazi – who did not hold elected office are Mordechai Maklef, Haim Laskov, David Elazar, Moshe Levy, Dan Shomron and Dan Halutz. Although Halutz did join the Kadima Party and become active – shifting allegiances from Tzipi Livni to fellow former chief of staff Shaul Mofaz – he never ran for anything.

So that leaves 12 IDF chiefs of staff out of the 20 who held political office, or 60%. Ten were ministers, including five who were defense minister: Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya’alon.

Gantz and Ashkenazi could aspire to enter that list, but they could just as easily end up much less successful in politics, with the late Amnon Lipkin-Shahak being the ultimate example of a political failure.

The following is a list of the IDF chiefs of staff who entered politics and what became of them:  

Yakov Dori 

Served only as deputy mayor of Haifa and was in the Rafi party.

Yigael Yadin: 
Served as deputy prime minister under Menachem Begin for only one term, from 1977 to 1981 as head of the Dash party until the party broke up.
Moshe Dayan

Was defense minister, foreign minister and a Mapai and Labor MK in  20 years in politics.

Tzvi Tzur: Was an MK in the Rafi Party for only 16 days before returning to business. But he then was assistant to the defense minister for seven years.
Yitzhak Rabin

Arguably the most successful IDF chief of staff in politics, being prime minister twice, defense and foreign minister in more than 20 years in politics. But his first term as prime minister ended in scandal and before he was assassinated, Israel was facing a wave of deadly terror attacks.

Haim Bar-Lev: Held Industry and Trade, police and development portfolios as a Labor MK in 18 yrs in politics ending in 1992.
Mordechai Gur

Served as health minister and deputy defense minister as a Labor MK in 14 years in politics

Rafael Eitan

Served as deputy prime minister and agriculture and environment minister, headed the Tzomet party, which ran together with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud in the 1996 election. Was in politics for 15 years.

Ehud Barak

Was prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister and twice headed the Labor party in 18 years on and off in politics. But after breaking up Labor and forming the short-lived Independence Party to remain Netanyahu’s defense minister, he became among Israel’s most controversial public figures.
Amnon Lipkin-Shahak

Started off as a candidate for prime minister in the 1999 election, but he ended up only as Tourism and Transportation Minister for the Center Party in just two years in politics from 1999 to 2001.
Shaul Mofaz

Served as defense minister and headed Kadima in 13 years in politics. But when he headed the party in the 2013 election, it won only two seats.
Moshe Yaalon

Served as defense minister and a Likud MK and has been in politics for a decade. But burning bridges with Netanyahu and Likud took him from being a likely candidate for prime minister to the leader of a party that would not cross the electoral threshold if it runs on its own.
Dan Halutz

Joined Kadima, but quit after 19 months and ended up not seeking elected office after a series of poor political moves and the negative Winograd report about his handling of the Second Lebanon War.

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