Analysis: A maverick general's farewell

Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh has always defied attempts to classify him.

yair naveh 298 88 idf (photo credit: IDF [file])
yair naveh 298 88 idf
(photo credit: IDF [file])
The company of Hesder Yeshiva Golani soldiers was astonished. Their kippa-wearing brigade commander, who had quizzed them in a friendly way on the weekly portion of the Torah a few months ago during basic training, was now angrily responding to their complaints of not enough time given by their officer for daily prayers. "It doesn't interest my left testicle," answered Col. Yair Naveh gruffly. "the only thing that is important are your operational capabilities." Maj.-Gen. Naveh has advanced a long way since the days when he was Golani's first (and only so far) religious commander, but he has always defied attempts to classify him. A graduate of the elitist Netiv Meir Yeshiva High School, he has been openly critical of the Hesder system which allows yeshiva students to serve shorter terms in the IDF. An officer known to be sympathetic to the settlers and particularly aggressive towards the Palestinian population, as OC Central Command he nonetheless carried out the disengagement in northern Samaria and was in charge of the violent showdown with the settlers in Amona last year. A professional military man, he has carried out the government's orders to the letter, even when they clashed with his own beliefs, but he has a history of controversial statements. Naveh, despite his 18 years in the brigade, was never a typical Golanchik. As a strict disciplinarian in a unit that prides itself on the informal relations between officers and enlisted soldiers, he was one of the least-loved commanders in Golani history. But he advanced on the basis of results, not popularity. He pulled Golani through difficult periods in the security zone of Southern Lebanon and the first intifada in Gaza. As head of the safety department in Ground Command, he reduced operational accidents and as Chief Infantry Officer greatly improved the personal equipment both of the units and the individual soldier. He also has a big mouth and by 2000, it was already getting him into trouble in high places. As commander of the Gaza Division, he launched the first large-scale incursion into Palestinian-held territory at the beginning of the second intifada and after an interview with a TV crew in which he said the IDF would remain there indefinitely drew an official protest from the Clinton administration, he was reprimanded and forced to apologize. Another diplomatic crisis occurred last year when Naveh said that since 80 percent of the Jordanians were actually Palestinian, it was quite likely that King Abdullah was the last of the Hashemites. But the biggest problem for Naveh was the deterioration of his relationship with the settlers over the last year and a half. His appointment in 2005 as OC Central Command was seen by many as an attempt to defuse tensions with the settlers before disengagement by appointing a religious general to carry out part of the plan. This only served to make matters worse as the settlers were infuriated with "their" officer taking part in destroying settlements. Six months later, Naveh's steadfast defense of the police personnel who had evacuated the settlers at Amona at the cost of 160 wounded almost cut him off totally from the community. Protests took place outside his home, and he was viciously attacked in the right-wing religious press. Three months ago, after Naveh signed orders forbidding dozens of settlers from living in the West Bank outposts, a group of rabbis calling themselves the Sanhedrin signed a herem, officially ostracizing Naveh. The general remained silent through all this, not giving interviews to the press and not responding to the mounting criticism. He is set to retire this summer, but indicated that he would be prepared to remain if a senior post such as deputy chief of staff or commander of military intelligence was offered to him. Over the last couple of weeks, it has emerged that he is not part of Lt.-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi's plans, and now he is almost definitely headed for Civvy Street. Even Naveh wouldn't have allowed himself such overtly political statements as those he made in the speech last week in Ariel if he wasn't convinced that his long and successful military career was finally over. But the content and direction of his comments is even more interesting. Naveh, by criticizing disengagement, the current leadership and promising the settlers they will stay there forever, is beckoning rightward, trying to regain the confidence of at least part of the national-religious community. He is thought to harbor political aspirations, and as the first religious officer in a series of senior positions, that is his natural constituency. But it will take a lot more than one speech before the settlers forgive him.