Former colleagues see Eisenkot as strong leader, unlikely politician

Eisenkot is seen as the only potential game changer who remains on the sidelines.

Gadi Eisenkot (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gadi Eisenkot
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot has not decided yet whether to enter politics, but sources who worked with him said he wants to contribute more to the country.
Eisenkot is seen as the only potential game changer who remains on the sidelines. His assets include being seen as a successful general, being a native of Eilat and the son of immigrants from Morocco with a good understanding of the poorest sectors of society and religious family members.
But those who worked with him in the past described him as a very unlikely politician.
“I was surprised he is talking about politics, because he stayed away from it like fire,” said Hay Lugasi, who was his spokesman in the IDF for three-and-a-half years. “It didn’t interest him in any way. Even when he was prime minister Ariel Sharon’s military secretary, he was the most unpolitical military secretary ever.”
Lugasi said Eisenkot would not even go to birthday parties where there would be politicians. When he started working as his spokesman, Eisenkot told Lugasi that he would score points for keeping the press away from him, but he still ended up meeting with journalists regularly and understanding the importance of their role.
Following his IDF service, Eisenkot went to the US to serve as a visiting military fellow at the Washington Institute for several months. At the institute, Eisenkot wrote a 78-page report called Guidelines for Israel’s National Security Strategy, which he wrote in Hebrew while also working hard on the English translation. His English got better while he was in Washington and he gave public presentations in English.
“He developed a comprehensive strategy for Israel that accounted all of the tools, not just the military tools,” said Dennis Ross, who is the William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at the Institute. “I was struck by how sound the approach was. This was another side that showed how analytical and thoughtful he is. He can break down a problem and figure out how best to deal with it.”
Ross said he was impressed by Eisenkot’s leadership skills and strong sense of purpose.
“He is a leader, and I’ve been around a lot of leaders,” Ross said. “What surprised me is how strategic he was in thinking about the future of the country, and his overall depth and grasp of issues beyond military. I have been around a lot of leaders and politicians in my life. He is a complete person and a decent person.”
Ross described Eisenkot as a centrist. Asked if he could be a peacemaker, he said: “I see him as someone who can handle any challenge Israel faces,” adding, that Eisenkot understands the challenge of the rising Palestinian population, but is “not a freier (naive).”
“He is a problem solver by nature,” Ross said. “He wouldn’t make decisions that tie Israel’s hands. I don’t see him being the kind of leader who makes decisions without thinking about their strategic consequences.”
David Makovsky, a former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief who directs the institute’s Koret Project on Arab-Israel Relations, called Eisenkot “an amazing guy with a sterling character.”
Makovsky said that while Eisenkot was at the institute, Israeli politicians tried to draft him to run in this year’s previous elections. He responded by sending them a picture of himself in a Hezbollah tunnel along with a message about him lacking reception.
“He has devoted his life to the state, and his focus is purely on the people of Israel, charting a path that is so authentic,” Makovsky said. “He is savvy but not a political shark.”
Sources who knew Eisenkot in the US said he is “not a Likudnik,” “doesn’t believe in magical solutions” and is “wary of simplistic ideas on the edges.”
A current military officer who is still in the IDF and worked closely with Eisenkot described him as  “very honest, trustworthy, focused, fierce, patient, intelligent, cunning, calculating and a strategic thinker.”
“He’s not the most photogenic chief of staff we’ve had,” the military officer said. “He did the political maneuvering to draft a five-year budget plan. No other chief of staff was able to do that. He is very modest and down to earth. He cares deeply about the state and its institutions. He doesn’t act like someone with a chip on his shoulder. He knew he earned where he was, and he commanded respect.”
Lugasi, who worked as a spokesman for Naftali Bennett, said it would be strange for him to see Eisenkot as a politician but that if he joined the fray his motives would be pure, because he does not need a political career for self-aggrandizement.
“If he enters politics, he would bring something different,” Lugasi said. “If it happens, the people of Israel will be lucky.”