Gabi Ashkenazi in fighter jet 311.
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
When Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi marches out of the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday, he will leave behind a military apparatus that is possibly better prepared than the one he received in 2007, but that is also far more preoccupied.
The revolution in Egypt, the slide toward possible anarchy in Jordan and Hizbullah’s takeover of Lebanon mean that the next four years will be just as interesting as the last four, if not considerably more so. In these coming years, Israel will also likely have to decide what to do about Iran – allow it to go nuclear, or, if sanctions and other measures fail, use an assumed military option to stop it.
Ashkenazi: Peace with Egypt is a strategic asset for Israel
Peres and Ashkenazi salute each other at Beit Hanassi
When Ashkenazi was appointed chief of staff in February 2007, he found the IDF in a state of shock and trauma. It had been badly hurt on the battlefields of southern Lebanon, and while the past four-and-a-half years of quiet prove that that war was not entirely a failure, Ashkenazi’s first mission was to restore some pride to the troops.
The way to do that was split into three different tracks. The first, the most basic, had to do with training. Today, almost all IDF units from the ground forces train for four months and then spend four months in operations, in the West Bank or along one of the country’s borders. Four months, four months – an equation that could only be broken with Ashkenazi’s permission.
Ashkenazi’s motto throughout his term was “a military needs to be either preparing for war or fighting a war,” and that is how the IDF has handled itself under his command.
The second track had to do with technology and ensuring that the IDF maintained its qualitative military edge in the region. Recent decisions include purchasing the F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, as well as manufacturing the Namer armored personnel carrier – based on the hull of the Merkava Mk 4 tank – in the United States.
The third track relates to some of the mysterious operations that the IDF and the Mossad are believed to have carried out around the world, including assassinations, thwarting of arms shipments and alleged air strikes in places like Sudan and Syria.
The operations that he oversaw – including Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in winter 2008-2009 and the bombing of Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007 – were for the most part successful. In Gaza, Israel succeeded in creating some deterrence, and with the reactor strike, tellingly, Syria did not respond.
But despite the rehabilitation and these operational successes, Ashkenazi’s term will, in the immediate future, be mostly remembered for his bad relationship with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as exemplified by the Harpaz Document affair and the unprecedented process it took to appoint his successor.
While he failed to establish good ties with his own defense minister, however, Ashkenazi has forged a strong relationship with a number of his counterparts overseas.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, will arrive on Sunday to participate
in the change-of-command ceremony at the Kirya on Monday and to speak at an event being held in Ashkenazi’s honor Sunday night at Tel Aviv University. The two have spoken a number of times over the past two weeks about the developments in Egypt.
Ashkenazi is concerned with events there and does not hide that unease. On Thursday night, he spoke of tectonic shifts in the Middle East and of the importance of investing in the IDF and ensuring that the military retained its edge and strength.
In the end, Egypt could turn into a major Israeli game-changer.
If the regime that replaces President Hosni Mubarak is led by the Muslim
Brotherhood, then Israel will have to begin preparing for the
possibility that a future regional war could involve not only Syria and
Hizbullah, but also Egypt.
This would require significant investments and restructuring within the
military, including the procurement of new platforms and the likely
establishment of new brigades and divisions.
Over to you, incoming chief Benny Gantz.