Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, who was sworn into the Knesset earlier this month, warned on Tuesday that the policies of the incoming government, with its far-right makeup, could lead to the breakup of the IDF.
“The behavior of the future coalition undermines the authority of the IDF command, harms the faith of the public, and could lead to the dismantling of the army,” said Eisenkot, while speaking at a conference organized by the Israel Democracy Institute.
The ex-military chief, who is slated to serve in the opposition as an MK for the National Unity party, took particular issue with the manner in which prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is divvying out sensitive portfolios to his prospective government’s most hardline members in ongoing coalition talks.
Netanyahu has agreed to appoint Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir to be the minister in charge of police and has expanded the role to also include authority over the Border Police’s West Bank division.
“The title that the designated minister received — national security minister — demonstrates the magnitude of the absurdity in which we are living,” Eisenkot said, referring to Ben Gvir. “If there is one person who is associated with national security, it is the prime minister.”
Eisenkot called the potential transfer of the Border Police’s West Bank division from the Defense Ministry and the IDF’s Central Command to Ben Gvir’s ministry and the potential transfer of the Civil Administration — the Defense Ministry body that governs aspects of civilian life in some 60 percent of the West Bank — to the Finance Ministry likely to be run by Religious Zionism chair Bezalel Smotrich a “subjugation due to a political need.”
“If someone wants to create anarchy in Judea and Samaria, this is the way to do it,” Eisenkot said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.
He also warned of the dangers of stripping command of West Bank security forces away from the military, saying that the current structure has allowed the IDF to thwart 98% of attacks. “If this balance is violated, a very complex reality will be created.”
Eisenkot hailed the officer who handed down a 10-day military jail sentence to a soldier who was filmed verbally and physically taunting left-wing activists in Hebron last week.
The soldier was recorded boasting how Ben Gvir was going to instill order in the flashpoint city before shoving a journalist and shouting, “I don’t like leftists and I will break their [bones].”
Ben Gvir protested the Tuesday punishment, saying the officer had “crossed a red line.” Shortly thereafter, the officer’s identity was leaked on social media, with dozens of far-right accounts tearing into him and calling for his discharge.
“The behavior of these politicians weakens the IDF and harms the public’s trust in it, as we saw particularly in the Azaria case and it is only getting worse,” Eisenkot lamented.
Eisenkot was chief of staff in 2016 when IDF soldier Elor Azaria killed Abdel-Fattah al-Sharif, a Palestinian who had stabbed an Israeli soldier and had already been subdued in Hebron.
Azaria was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the shooting, which was filmed, though he only served half of the decree. Eisenkot backed the punishment and came under fire from right-wing lawmakers, as they and Netanyahu expressed support for Azaria.
Eisenkot said Tuesday that Netanyahu’s conduct in the Azaria case “harmed the public’s trust in the IDF and the IDF as a state body.”
The former IDF chief warned against changing the IDF’s open-fire rules, saying they have justifiably remained in place since 1988 and have “allowed the IDF to function in a professional and efficient manner.”
Ben Gvir has called for altering the rules to allow soldiers to shoot to kill those who seek to harm IDF soldiers. He recently has called for shooting dead Palestinians who try and throw Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops — something which the open-fire rules already mandate.
“Politicians talk about it with zero authority… It is unthinkable that [ministers] would determine the open-fire rules,” he said.
“What’s more, these are people who did not serve in the army and are guided by populist considerations,” he said, referring to Ben Gvir, who was barred from IDF service due to his criminal and extremist background.