(photo credit: IDF)
On Tuesday, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi will enter the 14th floor of the Kirya in Tel Aviv to take over as the IDF top officer from Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who will be exiting the building for the last time.
Kochavi will assume the post of Israel’s 22nd Chief of Staff during times that are turbulent, both militarily and politically. Militarily, the IDF is contending with Iran on its northern borders while Hamas continues to push Gazans towards the security fence in the south, and the atmosphere in the West Bank remains tense.
Israel’s strongest ally, the United States, is withdrawing its forces from Syria, and several high-ranking officials and generals have resigned in protest.
Those men include: Secretary of Defense James Mattis; the former envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS Brett McGurk; and Anthony Zinni, who had been tasked with resolving the Qatar dispute.
Mattis has been replaced by Patrick Shanahan, a Boeing executive with no military experience and at the end of 2019, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford will be replaced by Gen. Mark Milley, who has an extensive military background, especially in the Middle East.
During his term, Eisenkot took credit for “thousands” of airstrikes in war-torn Syria over the past two years, dropping many millions of shekels of munitions on Iranian and Hezbollah targets. He had clear partners in Washington, men who spoke his language and understood the urgency for Israel to defend itself.
But, with the US pull-out from Syria and a change of the guard in Washington, Israel’s pillar of stability is gone. Countries like Russia, Iran and Turkey are filling the void. They do not care for Israel’s interests.
Politically, Israel is gearing up for elections on April 9 and, critical for Kochavi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also acting as Defense Minister.
Despite being appointed as chief of staff, Kochavi was not the Prime Minister’s first pick. Rumor has it that Netanyahu preferred Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir for the top position, and scolded then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman when he was told that Kochavi would be recommended for the role.
But, that’s not what is important for the chief of staff.
A Defense Minister preoccupied with getting reelected as well as fighting three corruption investigations is more of concern. However, it is Kochavi who will have the final say on defense matters.
During election periods, the security cabinet is almost completely paralyzed. Members are preoccupied with getting votes rather than focusing on national security. Politicians might also use the army as a tool, but it will be up to Kochavi to stand up to any political pressure.
Nevertheless, the Middle East is a turbulent place. And with the smallest miscalculation, the tensions on the northern border as well as with the Gaza Strip may explode into war.
No one wants a war during elections. Dead soldiers don’t get votes in Israel.
But Kochavi didn’t make his way to the top of the military ladder by chance.
Enlisting in 1982, he will be the first chief of staff to have not taken part in any conventional war with Israel’s enemies, instead fighting Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists in guerrilla warfare where he earned his reputation of changing the rules of the game to the IDF’s advantage.
Kochavi distinguished himself during the years of the Second Intifada, when he served as the commander of the Paratroopers Brigade and developed the technique of breaking through walls with a 5kg. hammer to cross between homes, instead of through alleyways in crowded refugee camps, saving soldiers from being targeted by snipers.
This tactic, as well as other urban warfare methods he developed, were later copied by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He also served as the head of the Gaza Division, commanding soldiers against Palestinian terrorist cells in the coastal enclave, as well as overseeing Israel’s 2005 unilateral disengagement before being promoted to the rank of major general and head of the Military Intelligence Directorate in 2007. In that role, he served in the first two conflicts in Gaza – Operation Cast Lead in 2008, and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012.
In 2015, he served as the head of the Northern Command before becoming deputy chief of staff in 2017.
On Tuesday, Kochavi will take up his latest and last position in the IDF, a role which will cap the general’s career in the country’s history books.
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