Ex-IDF chief cuts short army leave, in possible preparation for political bid

Gadi Eisenkot will formally leave the IDF on March 31 instead of next January, making him eligible to run in the next election, whenever it is held

Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, is interviewed by Amos Yadlin at the Institute for National Security Studies annual conference in Tel Aviv on January 27, 2019. (INSS)
Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, is interviewed by Amos Yadlin at the Institute for National Security Studies annual conference in Tel Aviv on January 27, 2019. (INSS)

Recently retired IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot has asked to shorten his year-long end-of-service paid leave and end it this month, raising speculation he seeks to make himself eligible to run for political office sooner.

Eisenkot left active service as chief of staff on January 15, and began a year of paid leave until January 2020. He is then obliged by law to wait for another three-year “cooling off” period, required for senior military officials before they are allowed to run for office. This would make him eligible to throw his hat into the national political ring only in January 2023.

However, the law stipulates that officials must wait three years or skip one election — whichever comes sooner. By becoming a civilian prior to the April 9 election, Eisenkot will be eligible to run in the next election whenever it may be held.

“By his request, the 21st chief of staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eisenkot will retire from the IDF on March 31, 2019, and will thereby relinquish the remainder of his release leave,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily Sunday.

An estimate in the Yedioth report said Eisenkot may be forfeiting as much as NIS 300,000 ($83,000) in pay by shortening his leave.

This year’s election is slated for April 9, 2019, and begins a roughly four-year term (plus a few weeks added from the shortened term of the previous Knesset) for the 21st Knesset.

Then-IDF chief of staff Gadi EIsenkot, front left, visits a Golani Brigade exercise in the Golan Heights on Oct. 27, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

However most Knessets do not last out their terms. There has been speculation that, should Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form the next government but be indicted on corruption charges he is facing, new elections could be called in as little as a year.

Eisenkot would now be eligible to run in such elections.

The move follows in the footsteps of a string of recent senior political figures who have made forays onto the national political scene.

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz now leads the Blue and White party, with two additional former IDF chiefs of staff, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi, at slots 3 and 4 on the list.

Two more parties, Beyahad and Magen, are headed by former IDF Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. (res.) Yom Tov Samia and former Galilee Corps commander Brig. Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch, respectively. Beyahad has announced it won’t run in the current election, but Samia is believed to still be considering a future run for the Knesset, possibly as part of another list.

Then-defense minister Ehud Barak (center), then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (right), and Gantz’s successor in the role Gadi Eisenkot, pictured near the northern border on Feb 15, 2011. (Defense Ministry/Flash90)

The generals join a long history of Israeli military leaders entering politics, including former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak.

IDF soldiers all receive paid leave at the end of their military service during which they are technically still members of the military, from two weeks for soldiers finishing their mandatory draft period to as much as a year for top-ranked generals. It is a period meant to cushion the transition from military to civilian life.

Eisenkot is slated to move to Washington in a few weeks’ time to begin a stint at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, the report noted.

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