IDF General: Supporting the IDF is the greatest contribution

Brig.-Gen. Rhassan Elian will participate in the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) Virtual Gala, on Sunday, September 13.

Brigadier General Rhassan Elian (photo credit: COGAT)
Brigadier General Rhassan Elian
(photo credit: COGAT)

“During the Corona period, commanders and soldiers alike understood the national mission assigned to us as an army in the fight against the coronavirus," says Brig.-Gen. Rhassan Elian, the IDF's head of Civil Administration. "While we were doing our work, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) did their job and helped many IDF soldiers. Their donations are vital and always bring a smile to the faces of IDF personnel," he said.

"FIDF’s contributions are much more than financial assistance – they are a conscious contribution to help IDF soldiers and officers. The very fact that they support the Israel Defense Forces is the greatest contribution," he continued.
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FIDF will hold its 2020 National Gala online on Sunday, September 13, 2020.
The evening, themed “A Night of Heroes,” will begin at 7 p.m. EDT, and will bring together thousands of FIDF supporters representing all chapters across the United States to express their appreciation for the soldiers of the IDF, who risk their lives to protect the State of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide. 

Elian has served in the IDF since 1990 and was the Golani Brigade Commander during the 2014 IDF Operation Protective Edge. He is the second Druze officer to command an IDF infantry brigade. “Druze have equal opportunities to serve and get promoted within the IDF,” says Elian, who spoke with The Jerusalem Post about his current position as head of the Civil Administration, the importance of FIDF to the soldiers of the IDF and his military career. 

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You are going to appear at this year’s FIDF virtual celebration to support IDF soldiers. What are your feelings?

There is nothing more meaningful than discussing military service in Israel. It is our moral duty to serve in the IDF and perform significant service, whether it is as a combat soldier or in an administrative role. In times like these – during the corona crisis and other periods of war – we see the unity of our society. Beyond that, we see how the military takes responsibility and has stepped in to assist even for a non-military event.

I am excited to convey this message at the FIDF Gala. It is important that everyone in the Diaspora understands what a strong, professional and moral army we have.

After serving in combat roles, including participating in actual operations, you then became the head of Civilian Administration. How did you make the switch?

This position is different from what I did during my military service as a combat soldier and commander in the IDF’s combat unit. As the head of the civil administration, I deal with issues and problems on levels related to the civilian population [that are] not necessarily associated with fighting against an enemy. It’s important to remember that even in the roles I’ve performed as a combat officer, it’s always been important for us to distinguish between the part of the population that has been involved in terror and the part that has not participated in those activities.

Our army operates according to the values of the IDF, the primary value of which is the purity of arms – and even during combat, we emphasize the civilian space. In that sense, it was easy for me to enter the position. In the past, I was a brigadier general in Judea and Samaria, and like any commander in Judea and Samaria, I dealt with the security and civilian worlds together. It is impossible to separate the two.

Beyond that, I am familiar with the Palestinian world, language and customs, which helps. Ultimately, I look at it as a military mission. There is a direct link between the civilian situation in Judea and Samaria and security stability. Our unit’s mission is to produce security stability through civilian means, out of the national interest for the State of Israel.

What does the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT) do?

“The unit, led by Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, deals in-depth with one of the most significant rifts in Israeli and Palestinian society, and we are sometimes required to work with institutions that represent opposing systems. One of our main goals in Judea and Samaria is to provide a normal fabric for two populations living side by side.  On the one hand, we work in civil and security coordination with the people and the Palestinian Authority and with the international community in the area, which contributes to continuous improvement in the fields of economy, infrastructure, health, etc. On the other hand, we are also responsible for the Jewish population living in the area, and we provide civil services in various areas. 

"The main goal of the unit is to ensure the best quality of life for the residents of the region through various civilian tools, such as granting employment licenses in Israel to Palestinians, coordinating Palestinian patients’ visits for medical treatment, developing industrial areas and agricultural projects, expanding the supply of water and electricity, improving road infrastructure, coordinating religious rites, etc. All of this contributes to the strengthening of the economy and correspondingly to security stability.

As head of the Civil Administration, what skills are needed to deal with the Arab population?

“I think that the most important thing, apart from the skills required of every IDF officer, is knowledge of Arabic. Language is a very significant component, and when you work with a population, you must speak their language. There is no question that if one speaks Arabic and understands the culture and customs of the people, one can manage to break through many barriers. In addition, an officer in the unit is required to work in a very complex and multidimensional environment, and even at the lowest rank is assigned a great deal of responsibility and authority.

In my opinion, coordination and liaison work is an art. An officer in the COGAT needs to know how to combine procedures and security with the preservation of the routine of the population in the area. He must be flexible and provide creative solutions to complex civilian problems, as well as adapt to changes on the ground while adhering to the goals of his mission.

We have all witnessed the global crisis following the spread of the coronavirus. How has your unit helped to deal with the virus?

With the outbreak of the coronavirus in Israel and Judea and Samaria, the COGAT and the Civil Administration worked to help the Palestinian Authority stop the spread of the virus as much as possible by introducing tens of thousands of test kits, protective equipment, and other medical equipment. We have also coordinated joint training with Israeli and Palestinian medical teams to help study the new virus and treat patients. The development of the virus was rapid, and therefore it required us to make daily assessments and adapt to changes in the field.

How was the cooperation between the IDF and the Palestinian Authority regarding Corona?

During the first wave of the outbreak, we worked together with the Palestinian Authority and the international community to fight against the common enemy. Coordination was close and effective, and both sides joined forces to prevent the spread of the virus. The virus does not recognize geographical boundaries, and it is in the common interest of both sides to maintain public health for the residents of Judea and Samaria and the citizens of Israel alike. Now, in the second wave of the outbreak, we are in the midst of a political crisis that is hampering cooperation. Yet we are making every effort to continue to provide services to residents, and to slow down the spread of the virus, as much as possible.

You have served in the IDF for 30 years, since 1990. How have IDF soldiers changed since you joined, and what are the most important things to keep in mind when commanding soldiers?

Over the years, I look at the soldiers of the IDF and see in them the beautiful face of Israeli society – a society with extraordinary values, morals and norms, a society that knows how to respect every person no matter his position, a society that does not forget the past – and yet looks to the future and knows that it must defend its existence against every threat and every enemy. There is no doubt that over the years, there have been quite a few changes, with an emphasis on the way of thinking and the effects of technology and social media on the younger generation.

This is a command challenge for all IDF commanders – from junior officer to senior officer – that obligates us to adjust and bridge the gaps so that the mission is always carried out to the best of our abilities. However, it is important to emphasize that the nature and principles of command and leadership have remained the same throughout the years. Beyond that, if you look at the nature of the wars – it also has not changed.

During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, I asked the soldiers what motivated them to continue fighting, and the answers I heard are the same answers heard by IDF commanders in past wars – in the end, war is still war. The soldiers replied that they were willing to give their lives for the security of the state, they believed their actions were just, and they acted out of a sense of mission and comradeship.

What were your challenges as a Golani brigadier general?

For most of my army career, I served in combat and command positions in the Golani Brigade, and when I was appointed brigadier general, it provided a sense of closure. It was a great privilege to be part of the legacy of commanders who led the brigade throughout Israel’s battles. Without a doubt, my first challenge when I became a brigadier general was to live up to expectations and justify my selection as head of the brigade.

The Golani Brigade recruits young people from all corners of the country, and the role of its head and officers is to unite them into one framework so that the brigade can successfully meet any task. I experienced this about a month and a half after I took office at the start of Operation Protective Edge. As commander, you appreciate the strength and power of the soldiers and commanders in your brigade.

What does a commander need to do to gain the respect and appreciation of his soldiers?

A commander should love his soldiers. As a commander, you must first and foremost respect your soldiers. The value of human dignity is a supreme value for me. Each commander should serve as a personal example to his soldiers in his actions, instill values and respect in them ​​and provide them with the tools to become better citizens of the State of Israel.

What is the guiding value that you have followed in your years as an IDF officer?

Apart from the IDF values ​​and military ethics that guide the way, the leading principles for me are the belief in the justness of our actions and carrying out our mission in light of the goal. I believe in what I do, and I love what I do.