IDF chief Kochavi faces greatest test: It’s not Iran, it's Netanyahu

Public needs to rely on chief of staff more than ever to tell the truth

Aviv Kochavi visits the Israeli Air Force (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
Aviv Kochavi visits the Israeli Air Force
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi is closing in on his first anniversary as the IDF’s chief of staff, and is currently facing the greatest challenge of his tenure: keeping the military out of Israel’s political quagmire.
It won’t be easy.
On Saturday night, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s interim prime minister, would be convening the security cabinet on Sunday for the first time since the election on September 17.
Officials who spoke to the press played up the Iranian threat. One Likud minister claimed that the situation was reaching a boiling point across Israel’s different fronts: in the North with Hezbollah, in the South with Hamas, and in other parts of the region like Iraq and Saudi Arabia due to Iran.
On Thursday, Netanyahu gave voice to these concerns at the inauguration of the newly elected Knesset, saying that Israel is “facing a huge security challenge that has grown with each passing week and has intensified over the last two months... Anyone with eyes in his head can see that Iran is getting stronger.”
It is difficult to disconnect these warnings from the political turmoil as well as Netanyahu’s personal legal troubles. Coalition talks are not going anywhere due to Netanyahu’s refusal to negotiate directly with Blue and White, insisting instead on maintaining the right-wing bloc.
And on Sunday, Netanyahu’s lawyers arrived at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for the third day of his hearing ahead of a final decision on the indictment that is expected to be filed against him in the coming months. The first part of the day was supposed to be dedicated to final remarks on the bribery charge in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair, and then to arguments about the breach of trust charge in Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair.
With all of this going on, Netanyahu’s political rivals make a claim that is hard to ignore. Iran, they say, is always a threat and has been for years. Nothing dramatic has changed, they claim.
What has changed, they say, is the pressure Netanyahu is facing from losing the election: failing to reach 61 seats on the Right; his inability to convince Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to join his coalition; and the knowledge that an indictment is coming.
What does this have to do with the security cabinet meeting? Possibly everything and possibly nothing. Is the meeting an attempt to divert attention away from Netanyahu’s political and legal troubles, or is there a new, clear and present danger that needs to be dealt with urgently? Were his remarks in the Knesset sincere, or were they, too, motivated by politics?
With a prime minister facing an indictment, this is the unprecedented problem Israelis face today. No decision that Netanyahu makes can be seen as being apolitical. Is he gathering the cabinet because of a real threat or because of politics? If Israel launches a preemptive strike somewhere, will it be because of a threat that had to be dealt with, or because of Netanyahu’s legal troubles?
This is why Kochavi is under pressure and is purposely keeping a low profile. Anything he says will be used as a political tool. If, for example, Kochavi says that Israel is facing an unprecedented threat, he will be seen as helping his current boss: interim Defense Minister and Prime Minister Netanyahu. If he says something that can be construed as meaning that nothing has really changed, he will be seen as helping his former commanders, the three chiefs of staff at the helm of Blue and White.
Due to the ambiguity and uncertainty, Israelis need to rely today on Kochavi in a way they have not needed to rely on previous chiefs of staff. He is the only person who can tell the public the truth.
If Netanyahu decides to embark on a military adventure to divert attention away from his pending indictment, the only person really capable of telling Israelis what is happening is Kochavi, the IDF chief of staff.
Kochavi’s integrity is currently not in doubt. We have to hope it stays that way.