Can Kochavi steer the IDF through a fourth election? - analysis

In two years, Kochavi has already worked with no less than four different defense ministers.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi speaks at the officers graduation ceremony, July 1st, 2020 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi speaks at the officers graduation ceremony, July 1st, 2020
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
On October 18th, 2018, then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman informed the cabinet of his recommendation to appoint Aviv Kochavi as the new IDF chief of staff.
When Kochavi assumed the role in January 2019, it was after Liberman had resigned from the government, elections had been initiated and the defense minister post was held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A year later, after the second round of elections in 2019, Naftali Bennett was appointed defense minister. Then, in May 2020, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz took over Israel’s top defense position.
In two years, Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi worked with no less than four different defense ministers.
As Israel heads into another round of elections - the fourth in only two years - more changes are on the horizon for an already unstable defense establishment.
One of the most important components of a functioning defense system is continuity. A certain cohesive is needed to address threats and maintain achievements across the region.
The constant change of the most senior defense policymaker in the country did not help the IDF in preserving Israeli security over the last two years. However, the chief of staff did do a good job in understanding how to steer the ship through this stormy ocean, retired general Gershon Hacohen said.
A former commander of the IDF Staff & Command College, Hacohen said Tuesday that Kochavi was successful in going through these changes smoothly and without mishaps.
He said that the chief of staff understood the key to keep the system going - creating trust between him and each of the ministers he needed to work with.
During this time, Kochavi had to “make the defense minister believe in him, and believe that he operates within a framework that he was shown.
“I think that in this matter Kocahvi had great success. He won the trust [of the minister],” Hacohen said.
“This trust takes form in the day-to-day dialogue between the two,” he added. “It also manifested in the accessibility between the two offices. The updates mechanism, how to update, and what to say. I think that in this sense he knew how to get the ministers on his side on the steps he wanted to make.”
In terms of how an unstable political system affects the military - both its actions and its senior commanders - Hacohen said that in Israel’s political and social climate, the army is above the political discourse and due to that, it manages to maintain a sense of freedom.
“It is the IDF’s duty to keep Israel safe. [and the fact that it managed to do so in the past two years] shows us that the senior military commanders, such as the chief of staff and top commanders are not contractors. They are part of a senior class in the national-strategic level,” he said.
“It is safe to say that the State of Israel is strong due to a professional and non-political public sector that keeps on operating,” Hacohen added. “Just like the hospitals, which are also operating now during a crisis in an inspiring way.”
When it comes to how Israel’s enemies view political instability in Israel, Hacohen said that “it is obvious that they would like an Israel that isn’t standing together like a solid wall.
“However, Israel's [military] routine activities weren't damaged,” during this ongoing political crisis, the former general said.
The coming round of elections will further deepen political instability in Israel. The rhetoric will become uglier and the coronavirus will keep the society frustrated and divided.
The challenges for the IDF will continue, and the top IDF officer - Aviv Kochavi - will have to keep steering the ship until this crisis is over.