Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin took over as the new head of the Israeli Air Force on Thursday, replacing Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, who has served in the position for five years.
Norkin previously served as head of the army’s Planning Directorate. Eshel, who has served in the IDF for 40 years, will retire from the military.
Defense Minsiter Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attended the ceremony at the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters, lauding both men for their dedication to Israel’s security.
“Amir, thank you for 40 years of meaningful contribution to the security of the State of Israel,” Liberman said. “Norkin, you are entering the position and will immediately have to deal with many challenges. You will need to continue to turn the long arm [of the IDF] into a much longer arm.”
In his speech, Norkin said he would continue the work of his predecessor. “[Eshel’s] command expanded the envelope of the [air] force’s abilities, attack and defense, from the air and the ground,” he said.
The incoming air force chief also praised Eshel’s work building a “strategic connection with air forces near and far.”
Eshel replaced Ido Nehoshtan in May 2012 and commanded the air force during the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense campaign in Gaza in November 2012 and during the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
“Amir you are finishing your command of the air force after five years and three or four months. Amir you had an impact on the air force and I would also say you influenced the General Staff and the IDF with your courageous and creative stances, in the way you presented things during discussions and, mostly, in your actions,” Eisenkot said.
The army chief also noted that one of Eshel’s last tasks in his position was responding to Monday’s deadly helicopter crash, in which the pilot, Maj. (res.) David “Dudu” Zohar, was killed and the co-pilot seriously injured.
“I think that we are seeing the air force at its best, in the way that it knows how to comfort the family and that way it knows how to look at the facts clearly and investigate things professionally,” Eisenkot said.
“We learn from things and try reach a minimum of casualties in war and a minimum of casualties in training,” he said.
In his speech, Eshel also discussed the crash, saying the air force’s “heart was with the Zohar family.”
Eisenkot said Norkin taking over for Eshel was “natural” as he had already “held all the central position in the air force” and had displayed “excellency throughout his years of service.”