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Aviv Kochavi takes reins from Gadi Eisenkot as IDF chief of staff

Top officer sworn in at military headquarters in Tel Aviv before series of appearances in Jerusalem

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Deputy IDF chief of staff Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi salutes during a ceremony at Hakirya base in Tel Aviv, November 3, 2016. (Flash90)
Deputy IDF chief of staff Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi salutes during a ceremony at Hakirya base in Tel Aviv, November 3, 2016. (Flash90)

Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi took over Tuesday as the 22nd commander of the Israel Defense Forces, replacing outgoing chief Gadi Eisenkot, who ended his four-year term as the army’s top officer.

The handover took place at a 9:30 a.m. ceremony at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv where the first order of the day promoted Kochavi, 54, to the rank of lieutenant general.

Kochavi, until now the deputy chief of staff, takes over as Israel faces an array of challenges on its borders with Gaza and Lebanon along with an evolving campaign against Iran in Syria.

As expected, he hit the ground running, meeting his general staff on Tuesday afternoon, after which he issued a daily order sent out to all IDF commanders and soldiers.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, speaks with Galil Division commander Amir Baram and head of the Northern Command Aviv Kochavi (right), during a visit to Israel’s northern border on December 30, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Eisenkot, who retired after four years at the helm and 40 years as a soldier, formally handed over the IDF Chief of Staff’s standard to Kochavi at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently also the defense minister.

Kochavi also paid his respects at the National Hall of Remembrance at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.

In keeping with tradition, he then visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, the iconic remnant of the Second Temple complex which has been a focus point for the Jewish people for 2,000 years.

Kochavi also met with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem before returning to Tel Aviv for the official passing of the baton.

Outgoing IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot sits with his wife, Chana, and granddaughter at a farewell ceremony in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters on January 13, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The new IDF commander takes over at a time when Israel is openly engaged in military operations to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria, while also facing weekly violent confrontations in the south on the border with the Gaza Strip and the constant threat of tensions with Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.

Internally, Israel is also in the midst of an election season, with security matters always high on the agenda, and the army has been subjected to criticism from lawmakers and an outside ombudsman that it may not be prepared for war.

On Sunday Netanyahu admitted that the IDF has bombed hundreds of Iranian targets in Syria in recent years, including a weekend strike at Damascus International Airport on a weapons warehouse. Iran and its proxy militias have been helping the Syrian regime end that country’s civil war.

The revelation, a day after Eisenkot admitted in a series of interviews that Israeli jets had bombarded Iranian positions in Syria thousands of times, reflecting a shift away from Israel’s former policy of ambiguity regarding its air campaign in Syria.

Father and philosopher

A husband and father of three daughters, Kochavi holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Hebrew University, a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University, and a second master’s degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University.

He began his military service in 1982 and joined the paratrooper brigade. After completing officer’s training course rose through the ranks and went on to command Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate and then headed the IDF’s Northern Command.

Incoming IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi at the Western Wall, January 15, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In May 2017 he was appointed deputy commander of the IDF and in October 2018 the government cabinet approved him as the next commander of the army.

His deputy will be Eyal Zamir, a former head of the Southern Command who had also been in the running for the IDF chief role.

Zamir was sworn in last month.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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