Iran won’t be incoming IDF chief of staff’s biggest challenge - analysis

Halevi, who will replace Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, will have his work cut out for him maintaining ties between the IDF and Israel's political echelon.

Major General Herzi Halevi, Commanding Officer of the IDF Southern Command speaks during the conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Major General Herzi Halevi, Commanding Officer of the IDF Southern Command speaks during the conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Iran might pose the greatest external threat to the State of Israel, but relations between the IDF and the political echelon are going to be the greatest challenge for Herzi Halevi when he becomes chief of staff in January.

Halevi, who will replace Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, will have his work cut out for him from the moment he sits behind his desk at the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv.

He will, of course, have to deal with Iran and its proxies, as well as the ongoing Operation Break the Wave in the West Bank, all while making sure that Gaza remains “quiet.”

In addition to all the well-known “regular” threats a chief of staff must contend with, the complex problems that Halevi will have to handle will be on the internal front.

The Israeli political battle of the new IDF chief of staff

 HEAD OF THE Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir arrives at the scene of Wednesday’s bombing at the exit to Jerusalem (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) HEAD OF THE Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir arrives at the scene of Wednesday’s bombing at the exit to Jerusalem (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

In addition to the erosion of public trust, the declining motivation of youth to serve and the ongoing struggle over IDF values, there are growing pressures by politicians, many of whom are set to handle key portfolios in the incoming government of Benjamin Netanyahu, who think they can interfere in how the IDF handles itself and its troops.

The politicization of the IDF, as seen by the discourse surrounding the recent events in Hebron by Givati soldiers, is a slippery slope that can lead to a lack of legitimacy in the eyes of the international community – as if the international community already applauds actions by the IDF.

The incident in Hebron, where troops are seen physically and verbally assaulting left-wing activists, not only led politicians like Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir (despite his never serving a day in the military) to blast the army and Kohavi himself.

Ben-Gvir, who is set to become national security minister, is a known instigator with a fiery past known well to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) for his beliefs. But a large number of Israelis voted him into power, and Netanyahu will have to handle him.

Halevi, as chief of staff, will also need to deal with the fact that a large number of soldiers voted for him and Religious Zionist Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich.

One of the Givati soldiers involved in the incident in Hebron was filmed saying, “Ben-Gvir will create order here. You’ve lost it. All you do here is finished. I decide what the law is and you are acting against the law.”

“Ben-Gvir will create order here. You’ve lost it. All you do here is finished. I decide what the law is and you are acting against the law.”

Givati soldier in Hebron

Halevi will need to make sure that no matter the political leaning of a soldier, nothing will interfere with how he acts while in uniform.

He is no fool. He is smart, calculating and can handle situations in which he might not be in complete agreement with others. But he is not one to shy away from fights. And he will fight for what is right for the IDF.

Netanyahu cannot let politicians in his coalition blast the only entity that truly keeps the country safe.

Because should the Likud leader let people like Ben-Gvir, Smotrich, Noam leader Avi Maoz and their supporters call the shots, any legitimacy left for the IDF in the international community will be thrown out the window.

Soldiers will feel as if they can get away with violence against Palestinians and their supporters, a gift for Palestinian supporters who will hand more and more cases to the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

But it is unlikely that Halevi will allow for such political meddling in the IDF. He will not let the IDF become a punching bag for politicians. It will be a fight that he will not give up on.