The former head of Israel’s air defenses Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav took over as military spokesperson on Sunday evening, replacing Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, who will soon travel to Washington, DC, to become the next defense attaché to the United States.
The switch took place at the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit headquarters in north Tel Aviv, at a ceremony overseen by the outgoing head of IDF Operations, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, who was himself scheduled to be replaced in his position shortly, as he moves to take over as head of Military Intelligence.
In their speeches, Haliva and Kochav touted the importance of truthfulness for military spokespeople, as well as the achievements of the IDF during last month’s 11-day battle with terror groups in the Gaza Strip, known as Operation Guardian of the Walls. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit is facing ongoing allegations that it misled journalists during the conflict by telling reporters the military was launching a ground invasion when it was not, as part of an elaborate ruse meant to trick Hamas into sending its fighters into harm’s way.
“The basis of our actions is and will always be the truth. The IDF is a reliable, responsible, honest and straightforward source with no replacement. We are solely committed to speaking the truth,” Kochav said in his remarks.
“We have the professional responsibility to bring [information] to the public transparently, responsibly, and in light of the security needs of the State of Israel,” he said.
Haliva recalled the first IDF spokesperson, Moshe Perlman, who was forced to explain the military’s decision to shoot down five British planes during the Independence War after they entered Israeli airspace.
“Perlman, who set the foundational principle that while the IDF spokesperson may not release all of the information, it can never say anything that is untrue, was not lazy. He rented a taxi and took journalists with him in order to hear about the aerial battle that the Royal Air Force had with the Israeli Air Force from a primary source: the British pilot who was taken captive after he landed in Israeli territory,” Haliva said.
In his remarks, Haliva, who oversaw many aspects of the fighting in Gaza last month, defended the IDF’s actions in the enclave last month, saying it strived to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties.
“I can tell you now: The IDF during Operation Guardian of the Walls fired five costly missiles, of the most advanced variety we have. While they were in the air, new, up-to-date intelligence came in and it became unclear if uninvolved people were at the target. We decided to divert the munitions from their target, into the sea. We called off the strike at the last second. This was one case. There were many others like it,” Haliva said.
Zilberman was due to move to the US in the coming months to take over for the current Israeli defense attaché, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, who will become the next head of the IDF Central Command.
Zilberman has served as IDF spokesperson for some two years, entering the position amid controversy, as the initial candidate for the job, Gil Messing, bowed out after it came to light that he had acted as an undercover police agent during a 2015 corruption investigation of the Yisrael Beytenu party.
Concurrently with Zilberman’s tenure, public trust in the military dropped to its lowest level since 2008, according to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute released earlier this year.
Kochav is the latest in a line of career military officers to command the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, ending a previously common practice of naming civilians with a deep background in journalism or communications for the role.
Kochav, who is married and has four children, has served in the military since 1989, mostly in the Israeli Air Force’s air defense array. From 2016 to 2018, he served as the commander of the Military Police.
Kochav has a bachelor’s degree in communications and business administration from Tel Aviv’s College of Management and master’s degrees from both the US military’s Air Command and Staff College, and Haifa University.