IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi is hanging up his uniform Monday after a 40-year career and handing the reins of the country’s military to Herzi Halevi. After being media-shy for most of his time in service, Kohavi at the end of last week gave a round of press interviews to the printed press, radio and television stations, including an in-depth interview in The Jerusalem Post Magazine.
Kohavi’s four-year term as chief of staff was not an easy one and he should be commended for handling it successfully. The conditions were clearly not what he had planned when he stepped into the office at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv in January 2019. Kohavi entered the job determined to carry out his so-called Momentum reform, based on a technological program. In reality, he had to deal with an unprecedented situation of serving under four defense ministers, endless rounds of elections, COVID-era restrictions and the lack of a state budget.
Kohavi made something out of nothing
Kohavi made the most of what he had. When he entered the job, he promised to make the IDF more “lethal and efficient,” and he has, partly by putting the focus on good intelligence. For example, he established new units, including Ghost – a combat force that integrates cutting-edge technology, forces from multiple units, and an AI-driven target creator in Military Intelligence that draws up highly-detailed lists of specific targets on all fronts.
Under Kohavi, the IDF dealt with four operations against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, an increase in terrorism both in sovereign Israel and in Judea and Samaria, and – something that obviously kept him awake at night – the ongoing threat on the northern borders with Lebanon and Syria, where Iran is trying to further entrench its powers.
In the so-called “war between wars” (Mabam), the covert campaign against the country’s enemies, naturally most successes are secret and under the public radar. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been activity. There has. Kohavi, as chief of staff, was the one who oversaw it.
In the interview with the Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz and Yonah Jeremy Bob, Kohavi said there is more than one action a week against Iran somewhere in the Middle East, “and we crossed 52 operations in 2022.” Similarly, he is justifiably proud of denying Iran the ability to establish Hezbollah II on the Syrian Golan Heights. Kohavi told the Post that the IDF manages to prevent some 90% of the weapons from reaching Syria.
Kohavi broadened the strategic alliance with the US military, which we hope his successor will maintain. Similarly, like the outgoing chief of staff, the incoming one will look to strengthening relations within the Middle East with countries facing the same enemy: Iran.
Kohavi has also had to deal with threats of politicization of the IDF and the general polarization in society. Nonetheless, recent studies show that motivation to serve, including in combat units, is still high.
Kohavi’s term in office has not been devoid of criticism. He came under attack, for example, for pushing for an increase in pensions for career officers. Kohavi explained that conditions and pensions have to be attractive to keep the top brains in the military instead of moving over to the lucrative hi-tech sector.
Recently, he came under fire from an unnamed senior official who, in a report on Reshet Bet, blasted his emphasis on technology, at the expense of the ground forces.
If nothing else, the war in Ukraine against the Russian invasion has demonstrated the ongoing need for ground forces. The budgets for ammunition, training, protection and decent conditions for these soldiers must be ensured. And a string of accidents, including Sunday’s fatal one, also need to be addressed with better training, guidelines and enforcement.
Despite his statements that his initial post-army plans are to focus on education and technology, it is likely that Kohavi will take the leap into politics like so many of his predecessors in the IDF top job once the requisite number of years for a cooling-down period has passed. Whatever Kohavi does in the future, we wish him success.
Now it is Halevi’s turn to be in the hot seat of a military that faces more challenges than most. More than luck, we wish him wisdom. We salute them both.