New IDF chief holds first meeting with General Staff; Halutz urges cooperation.
By JPOST.COM STAFF
Vowing to learn and implement the lessons of last summer's Lebanon war, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi received his ranks and took office on Wednesday, becoming the IDF's 19th chief of General Staff.
Following a day full of ceremonies - at the Prime Minister's Office, Beit Hanassi and the Kirya military headquarters - Ashkenazi convened his first meeting of the General Staff and laid out his vision for rebuilding the IDF and preparing for future challenges, including the possibility of war against Hizbullah, Syria, the Palestinians and Iran.
Ashkenazi's letter to IDF troops
At his swearing-in ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Ashkenazi said that "the central challenge that stands before us is the improvement of the IDF's operational readiness."
He also promised to implement the lessons learned from the Lebanon war, saying: "We will do all we can, and we will not be silent until the missing [IDF soldiers] are returned home."
"We must fix the flaws," Ashkenazi declared. "But there are no magic solutions."
Halutz, who spoke just before Ashkenazi, said it was most important for the civilian and military fronts to work together. Looking back on his time as IDF chief, Halutz said that his biggest regret had been that the kidnapped soldiers - Gilad Schalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - had not been brought home, and said that this should now be the priority of the IDF.
Halutz emphasized that he had no hard feelings against anyone in the defense establishment, adding, "I didn't expect more than I received...I stood straight and proud of my actions and my orders."
The outgoing army chief also stressed the need for tolerance of mistakes within the defense leadership.
"The 'guillotine' culture is a destructive culture," Halutz said. "We need to be patient and tolerant of mistakes as long as they're reasonable - and [as long as] the one who makes them works to find the error."
"The IDF has finished its inquiries, and I wonder, what about the national inquiry, which will scrutinize us all, down to the last man - an investigation that will examine the discussion, the leaks, the superficiality, the short memory?" he said.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also spoke at the ceremony, saying that the war that was forced on the State of Israel last summer had been replete with Israeli achievements.
He expressed his confidence in the choice of Ashkenazi to lead the IDF, calling him "a Golani man with credentials that need no validation."
Ashkenazi, who most recently served as director-general of the Defense Ministry, brings with him a wealth of experience with ground troops, a quality lacking in his predecessor.
Halutz, a former IAF chief, resigned last month following criticism of his conduct of the war, including charges that he relied too heavily on air power.
In the first formal ceremony in the president's residence since President Moshe Katsav's suspension, Acting President Dalia Itzik praised the outgoing and incoming chiefs of General Staff.
"The ceremony today is being held under special circumstances," Itzik said. "We are only a few months from the end of the war, which left us bereaved and with many injuries and scars. The ceremony today is being held after the chief of staff's resignation, which was a difficult event in itself. Indeed, these are not easy times. However, the shocks of these times must not cause us to become submissive and helpless.
"A society's measure is taken during times of hardship. The entire State of Israel is being examined these days," she added.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said "the new chief of General Staff has a lot of work ahead of him: the implementation of the war's lessons, preparations, training and continuing the uncompromised fight against terror. I am sure Gabi will lead the IDF well into its renewal."
Peretz then turned to Halutz, calling him "Dan," and told him he had been one of the most decisive commanders the IDF had ever known.
"I am sure that you'll find ways to keep contributing to Israel even after 40 years of devoted military service," Peretz said.
Halutz, who attended the ceremony together with his wife Irit, wished his successor good luck.
"I want to wish Gabi, a friend, all the luck in the world. The success of the army chief depends on the assistance he gets, because a man cannot do it all by himself," said Halutz. "I'll be glad to keep serving this country as much as I can but only after a time-out and a recovery period from all that happened."
He added that the next thing he would do was pick up his grandson from kindergarten.
Ashkenazi, accompanied by his wife Ronit, closed the ceremony by saying he was aware of the heavy responsibility and expectations that now faced him.
"I will do all I can to continue to strengthen and develop the IDF's capacity and power, along with my fellow General Staff members," he pledged.
He focused his concluding remarks on "the bereaved families," and promised to help bring home Israel's abducted and missing soldiers.
"Even at this very moment I see before my eyes a long line of fallen friends, commanders who fell along the way," Ashkenazi said. "We should also remember the bereaved families today and continue to act to bring back all kidnapped and missing soldiers."
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