Thank you, Eisenkot

Under Eisenkot’s guidance, the IDF fought a “war between wars,” meaning covert operations against Israel’s enemies.

PASSING THE torch: Successor Aviv Kochavi (left) with Eisenkot. (photo credit: IDF)
PASSING THE torch: Successor Aviv Kochavi (left) with Eisenkot.
(photo credit: IDF)
It’s become a cliché, but Israel is in a rough neighborhood, with threats on all its borders. A quiet day in the Middle East is not something that comes easily, yet departing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot masterfully commanded over Israel’s military in a way that allowed for many quiet days over the past four years.
There was no war or major military operation that could define Eisenkot’s term, but Israel is overall in a safer place than it was four years ago. Iranian efforts to set up bases in Syria have been stopped and Hezbollah efforts to obtain hundreds, or maybe even thousands of precision-guided weapons, have been halted. ISIS is no longer much of a threat on the northern or southern borders, either.
Under Eisenkot’s guidance, the IDF fought a “war between wars,” meaning covert operations against Israel’s enemies. When reports come in from Syria about Israeli air strikes, official Israel doesn’t confirm or deny them, in most cases.
The completion of Operation Northern Shield on Sunday, destroying a sixth and final Hezbollah-built tunnel from Lebanon into Israel just two days before Eisenkot turned in his uniform, is deeply symbolic of Eisenkot’s greatest achievement that is known to the public: Keeping Iran and the terrorists it supports at bay in Syria and Lebanon.
More controversial was Eisenkot’s strategy for countering Hamas in Gaza.
The weekly protests at the Gaza border began nearly a year ago, and they have not stopped. Rocket fire at civilians in Israel’s South has mostly tapered off in recent weeks, but over 400 rockets were shot from Gaza into Israeli towns in one November day.
Many Israelis in the South and political figures have criticized what they view as a loss of deterrence. It often seems like Hamas is setting the agenda; Israel just waits to see what they will do, and then responds if need be.
Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman famously compared the IDF’s general staff with “the leadership of Peace Now,” in his frustration at their persistent opposition to a major military operation. Eisenkot repeatedly pushed back against ministers in the security cabinet who called for an escalation, or who said that Gazans launching incendiary balloons and kites into Israel should be shot.
These disputes led to an unfortunate situation in which Eisenkot and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made decisions between the two of them, and presented them as a done deal in the security cabinet. This is not how major decisions ought to be made in a democracy. The free flow of ideas is essential to reaching creative solutions to the many problems and threats Israel faces.
However, Eisenkot and Netanyahu had a clear reason for not following the rest of the cabinet’s ministers in banging the drums of war. There was no larger strategic objective to a major military operation and there was a high likelihood that Israel would have ended up exactly where it was before, only with more lives lost on both sides and blows to its international relations and public diplomacy, which – though this point seems to be lost on many, if not most Israelis – are an important component of Israel’s security.
Gaza was not the only situation in which Eisenkot stood up to popular opinion to do what he thought was right. IDF soldier Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed and wounded terrorist in Hebron, a case that was the focus of intense national debate. Eisenkot made it clear that he thought it was wrong to shoot and kill an unarmed Palestinian, even if he had attacked an IDF soldier earlier. There was major public support for Azaria, and a spike in hate speech against Eisenkot, but he stood strong on the side of the values he felt should guide the IDF.
Eisenkot ought to be remembered as an IDF chief of staff with strong convictions, who kept Israel relatively safe for four years. For that, and his four decades of service to this country, we thank him.