Gadi Eisenkot formally named 21st commander of IDF

Defense Minister Ya’alon confirms appointment; former Northern Command chief Yair Golan named deputy chief

Gadi Eisenkot attends a Memorial Day ceremony in May 2014. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Gadi Eisenkot attends a Memorial Day ceremony in May 2014. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot was formally confirmed on Saturday night as the 21st IDF Chief of the General Staff.

The announcement was made by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. The appointment will be presented to the cabinet on Sunday, and will be subject to formal approval from the Turkel Committee, which already vetted Eisenkot for his current post as deputy chief of staff.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wished him “success in the name of the citizens of Israel.” He said Eisenkot had been “chosen from an outstanding group of generals to lead the IDF in grappling with the complex security challenges facing Israel.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) welcomed the appointment, calling Eisenkot “a brilliant officer… who is not afraid to speak his mind.”

An infantryman from the Golani Brigade who stood out during the Second Lebanon War for his sober reading of the situation, Eisenkot was notified that he had been given the post by Netanyahu on Friday morning. He is set to take up the job on February 15, succeeding Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.

Eisenkot’s deputy will be Yair Golan, the general who formerly headed the IDF’s Northern Command, Ya’alon announced.

IDF Northern Commander Yair Golan (photo credit: IDF/FLASH90)
IDF Northern Commander Yair Golan (photo credit: IDF/FLASH90)

Eisenkot — who in 2011 insisted that the army’s top spot be given first to his predecessor, Gantz — will take up the post as Israel grapples with a new wave of Palestinian terrorism, which saw five Israelis killed in an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue last week, and tensions on several of its borders and across the region.

A TV report Friday night said Eisenkot firmly opposes Israeli military intervention to thwart Iran’s nuclear program unless Iran poses an immediate existential threat to Israel. He holds to the view that Israel should not strike at Iran “unless the sword is at our throat,” Channel 10 reported.

The prime minister had delayed naming Eisenkot as Gantz’s successor for the past two weeks, the TV report said, in part because he toyed with the idea of finding a candidate with an outlook less similar to that of Gantz. Netanyahu partly blames Gantz for the sense that Israel emerged “with a tie” from the summer’s 50-day war with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, and looked around for a top officer to succeed Gantz “with more of a knife between his teeth.”

Eisenkot, 54, has headed the General Staff’s operations branch and the Northern Command, and served for the past four years as the deputy chief of the General Staff, a pivotal post on the path to the top spot.

In 2010 he was one of very few army officers who saw the Harpaz Paper – a PR document that seemed aimed at tarnishing the army’s top general at the time, Gabi Ashkenazi, but was actually written by Boaz Harpaz, a man affiliated with Ashkenazi and his wife, Ronit.

Eisenkot, who had been in possession of the document and did not alert any legal authorities, was cleared in 2011 by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to serve as deputy chief of the General Staff.

Eisenkot raising a toast with Gantz, Barak, and Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, whom he replaced as Deputy Chief of the General Staff on January 14, 2013 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit/ Flash 90)
Eisenkot raising a toast with Gantz, Barak, and Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, whom he replaced as Deputy Chief of the General Staff on January 14, 2013 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit/ Flash 90)

Eisenkot, the son of a copper miner, was born in Tiberias and raised in Eilat. He met his wife, Hannah, at a public sailing club in the port city when both were in high school, and is now a father of five.

In November 1978, he enlisted in the Golani Brigade’s 51st Battalion, where he was eventually given the command of a platoon. Nonetheless, he never saw himself as an army lifer. “Every year I thought I’d stop but then I signed on for one more year and with the years that accumulated to 33 years in uniform,” he told the local Eilat weekly Erev Erev in 2011.

After serving as a company commander during the Lebanon War and climbing up the ladder, he was appointed commander of the Golani Brigade in 1997, stepping into the shoes of his legendary predecessor, Erez Gerstein, who was later killed in Lebanon.

Unlike some of his predecessors, he never served in a special unit and carries no classified commendations for valor. Over the years, though, he made a name for himself as a cool-headed, fair, and insightful officer and commander.

On the first day of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, once it was clear that Israel had lost eight soldiers, including two who had been abducted to Lebanon, Eisenkot was one of the only people in the General Staff’s room to keep his calm. “We can’t just get into a head-on battle and operate out of anger,” he said, according to an account in Yoav Limor and Ofer Shelach’s book “Captives of Lebanon.”

Soldiers evacuating a wounded comrade during the Second Lebanon War, on July 24, 2006 (photo credit: Haim Azoulay/ Flash 90)
Soldiers evacuating a wounded comrade during the Second Lebanon War, on July 24, 2006 (photo credit: Haim Azoulay/ Flash 90)

The chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, disagreed. He wanted to respond – “and now.” The two, in fact, disagreed throughout much of the 34-day war. Eisenkot, then the head of the army’s operations branch, wanted an early call-up of the reserve ground troops and fought against the decision to make an offensive push on the final weekend of the war.

Yet he and Halutz remained close and when defense minister Amir Peretz parted from the outgoing chief of the General Staff after the war and thanked him for allowing officers to speak their minds, Halutz, in the aforementioned account, said, “What officers? Just one officer.”

He was referring to Eisenkot.

In 2011, defense minister Ehud Barak, who had chosen Eisenkot as his military attache when he served as prime minister in 1999, sought to nominate him to the army’s top spot once his first preference, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, was rejected by the attorney general. “I feel I am ripe and ready to be the chief of the General Staff, but the right thing now, for the IDF and the State of Israel, is Gantz,” the Maariv daily quoted Eisenkot as saying, apparently on account of Gantz’s seniority.

Four years later, Ya’alon has decided that Eisenkot is the right thing for the state.

He will face a situation of constant uncertainty and frequent friction on Israel’s borders, with radical Sunni Islamist groups entrenched in the Syrian Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula, Islamic State making gains in Syria and Iraq, and Hamas still firmly in power in Gaza after a 50-day war this summer. Lebanon’s Hezbollah, too, seems to have moved toward a more offensive posture vis-à-vis Israel, and Iran, after years of careful maneuvering, has positioned itself perilously close to a nuclear weapon. Israel has also been facing escalated Palestinian violence, including a series of terror attacks in Jerusalem that have prompted talk of a third intifada, amid tensions surrounding the Temple Mount.

Over the years Eisenkot has been careful to avoid stating his position on political affairs or the pressing necessity, if at all, of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

When asked in 2011 in Yedioth Ahronoth whether he felt Israel could continue to thrive within the 1967 borders, he said it was wrong for an army man to speak about politics and that the army’s job was simply, “to give the political echelon the quiet and the capacity to make decisions from a position of strength.”

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