Contentious general once again left out of new IDF promotions

Military announces shuffle in General Staff, with Southern Command chief taking over Iran affairs; Ofer Winter said expected to quit after being snubbed again

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, on October 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset, on October 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday announced a series of appointments in the General Staff, a forum of senior commanders responsible for the various branches and departments of the military.

One controversial officer, Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter, was passed over for promotion yet again, and was reportedly expected to retire from the IDF.

Winter came under considerable criticism in the 2014 Gaza war for comments he made at the time that framed the operation as a religious fight, for allegedly passing information to politicians without proper approval, and for his actions during the highly controversial “Black Friday” battle in Rafah.

Since the war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, Winter’s career has somewhat stagnated, despite him previously having shown significant promise for advancement to the upper echelons of the IDF.

Winter was promoted from colonel to brigadier general in 2015 and was made chief of staff for the Central Command. In 2017, he was appointed military secretary to then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman, and only in 2019 was he given command over a division. Winter served as head of the Central Command’s 98th Division until September 2022, and has been without a role since.

In the army’s normal trajectory for promotion, Winter would have been on track to take command of a division in 2018, but he was passed over for promotion by then-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot.

Then-Givati Brigade commander Col. Ofer Winter, center, speaks to then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, right, and then-head of the IDF Southern Command Maj. Gen. Sami Turjeman during the 2014 Gaza war on August 2, 2014. (Israel Defense Forces)

Winter is often held up as a shining example of the national-religious community. Right-wing activists have repeatedly called for him to be promoted in the military, and expressed outrage on Wednesday following the announcement of the latest promotions that did not include Winter.

Winter was one of 14 brigadier generals up for promotion to major general during the current shuffle in the IDF General Staff.

Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano in an undated official photo (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the Ynet news site, Winter was expected to retire from the IDF following the decision to not promote him.

The IDF on Wednesday listed Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi’s latest appointments, which were approved by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, who currently is the head of the Southern Command, was to be appointed as the officer in charge of Iran affairs and the Strategic Planning Division.

Brig. Gen. Yaron Finkelman was to replace Toledano as head of the Southern Command, and would be promoted to major general in the coming months.

Brig. Gen. Nimrod Aloni would be appointed as head of the Depth Corps and Military Colleges; Brig. Gen. David Zini would be appointed as head of the Training Command and General Staff Corps; and Rear Admiral Eyal Harel would be appointed as head of the Planning Directorate.

All three would also be promoted to major general in the coming months.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (second right) and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi seen during a tour on near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, March 16, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Winter came under criticism during Protective Edge, when he served as commander of the Givati Brigade, for a letter to his subordinate officers in which he described the operation as a religious war against a “blasphemous” foe.

In media interviews, the officer also described his troops as being protected in battle by “clouds of glory,” raising concerns among religious freedom activists that Winter was theocratizing the military.

The former Givati Brigade commander was also later accused of passing along sensitive information about the war effort to then-economy minister Naftali Bennett, bypassing the usual chain of command.

He commanded the forces in the bloody “Black Friday” battle in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza on August 1, 2014. The fighting there became a central issue in a United Nations report on the war, with accusations that war crimes had been committed. In its own investigation, the Israeli military identified failures in how the battle was waged, but no criminal acts.

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