(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
In February 2007, several weeks after his appointment as IDF Chief of General
Staff, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi traveled to the Tze’elim Training Base in the
Negev to oversee an exercise of the Paratroopers Brigade, it’s first following
the Second Lebanon War.
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On Tuesday, Ashkenazi was again down in Tze’elim
watching a brigade-level exercise with the paratroopers.
Like most of
Ashkenazi’s work days, Tuesday began before dawn, with a helicopter ride from
near his home in Kfar Saba to the massive training base in the
From there, he was transported by jeep to the field where he
watched as the artillery cannons pounded the imaginary Syrian targets,
tanks maneuvered into their positions and as the paratroopers marched
off to the
There is no hiding it – Ashkenazi is in his element watching
military exercises and maneuvers. Dressed in a work uniform, Ashkenazi
casually among the hundreds of soldiers and officers as if he is one of
He listens as the senior officers explain the different stages of
the exercise unfolding before our eyes and then turns to the regular
and asks how they feel, where they are from and if they are getting out
At one point, he notices a group of officers with blue
ranks on their shoulders – meaning they are from the air force –
together with the paratroopers.
“Come over here,” Ashkenazi shouts out,
above the loud artillery and gunfire.
His face then lights
“These are pilots who have come to spend the duration of the exercise
with the paratroopers, walking with them through the desert to better
the complexities of the ground operation and how they, as pilots, can
from the air,” he explained to this reporter and the two others who
him on the tour.
Being at the exercise also softens up Ashkenazi and gets
him to speak more freely than usual.
He speaks at length about the IDF’s
increased training regimens, the drop in draft numbers, the dangerous
Russian missiles to Syria, the Iranian nuclear threat, Israel’s decision
purchase advanced stealth fighter jets and other issues.
The feeling is
that now that he sees the end of his term is on the horizon, Ashkenazi
at ease with the media. While the so-called “Galant Document” affair
a great deal of damage, he is working hard to show that he has moved on
focused today on continuing to prepare the military for the threats it
Despite the Galant Document, Ashkenazi ultimately will be
remembered as the IDF chief of General Staff who rehabilitated a broken
following the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The problem, he stresses, was
the IDF commanders during the war but with the IDF thinking at the time –
it needed to prepare for limited warfare and not allout war.
worked on the opposite.
Instead of training just on arrest raids in the
West Bank and Gaza, Ashkenazi has the IDF brigades practicing for war
despite the low chance of a conventional war in the near future. In
training its compulsory units, next year the IDF will hold brigade-level
exercises for reserve brigades, for the first time in 12 years.
preparing for the conventional war, soldiers and commanders will know
derive the skills they require for counter-terror operations,” he said.
visit to these types of exercises leaves a visitor with the feeling that
military takes itself far more seriously today than it did on the eve of
Second Lebanon War. While it has yet to be tested the way it was in
sense is that the IDF is better prepared.
This might be true, Ashkenazi
said, but it does not mean that the military can now cut back on
“If it is tough for a soldier during training,” he concludes,
“then it will be easier for him during a battle.”