Former air force chief Eshel tapped for top Defense Ministry post
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Former air force chief Eshel tapped for top Defense Ministry post

Gantz says Israel reeling from coronavirus crisis, will need to balance its civil needs with security challenges

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, welcomes Maj. Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel into the position of director-general of the Defense Ministry at its Tel Aviv headquarters on May 31, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, welcomes Maj. Gen. (res.) Amir Eshel into the position of director-general of the Defense Ministry at its Tel Aviv headquarters on May 31, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Former Air Force commander Amir Eshel took over as director-general of the Defense Ministry on Sunday, where he will likely face the challenge of paring back Israel’s large defense budget, in light of the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Eshel, a close adviser of Defense Minister Benny Gantz, succeeded Udi Adam, who served in the position for four years.

“We will act responsibly with a sober view on the socio-economic reality, we will enforce the strength of the Israel Defense Forces, while also supporting Israel’s economy through the defense industries, and, with the help of defense acquisitions, we will create workplaces, with a preference for the periphery,” Eshel said in a speech in the ministry’s headquarters on the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Amid a global economic downturn in the wake of the pandemic, which at its peak left roughly a quarter of the Israeli workforce unemployed, the country’s massive defense budget was expected to be scaled back, rather than expanded, as the military had hoped prior to the pandemic.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, left, speaking to IDF head Benny Gantz, center and IAF chief Amir Eshel. (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/DefenseMinistry/Flash90)
Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, right, in conversation with IDF commander Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and former Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Ariel Hermoni/DefenseMinistry/Flash90)

In his remarks at the ceremony, Gantz also focused on the country’s poor economic situation, alongside Israel’s security threats.

“The State of Israel and citizens of Israel are in the midst of a crisis, one of the largest that we’ve known on a medical, economic and social level. At the same time, security and diplomatic challenges stand before us that are growing, which require the investment of significant resources,” he said.

Col. Yaki Dolf, then-commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, at a military ceremony in June 2019. (Israel Defense Forces/Wikimedia)

Also on Sunday, Gantz tapped another ally from his military service, his one-time aide, Col. Yaki Dolf, to take over as his military secretary, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Dolf, who previously commanded the Northern Gaza Brigade, served for two years as Gantz’s aide when he was IDF chief of staff and is considered a confidant of the defense minister.

Dolf will be promoted to the rank of brigadier general and will succeed Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter, who currently serves as military secretary to the defense minister. Winter was tapped to take over as commander of the 98th Paratroopers Division.

The IDF said a date for the transition will be chosen shortly.

Eshel served as the head of the Israeli Air Force from 2012 to 2017, commanding it during the military’s 2012 and 2014 operations against the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, while Gantz was IDF chief of staff.

After retiring from the military, Eshel continued to advise Gantz, accompanying him to the United States earlier this year, during the unveiling of Trump’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Defense Ministry Director General Udi Adam. (Flash90)

Adam, who held the position of Defense Ministry director-general from 2016, previously served as an IDF general and the director of Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona.

During his tenure, Adam oversaw a major expansion of Israel’s defense exports, reaching a peak of $9 billion last year, according to the ministry.

Adam was appointed to the position of director-general under then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon. He stayed on under Ya’alon’s successors: Avigdor Liberman, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Naftali Bennett.

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