The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday appointed a new head of its Southern Command, at a time of heightened tensions in the area which includes the volatile Gaza Strip front.
Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi, who had served as head of military intelligence, will take the post, replacing Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir who held the position for almost three years.
Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot attended the ceremony in Beersheba at the Southern Command base, as did other members of the army’s General Staff.
“The southern Command has had lately to deal with a wide variety of terror attacks and defend the residents of the south,” Eisenkot said, praising the outgoing commander Zamir for “creatively, determinedly and responsibly” reacting to the threats.
Zamir said his top priority had been readying his forces for a potential war — after previous confrontations with the Hamas terror group in 2008, 2012 and 2014 — and that the goal had been achieved.
Addressing his successor, Zamir said: “Herzi, I have no doubt you will lead the Command with a strong hand.” Adding that they both know the situation is fragile, he wished Halevi luck in his new role.
Eisenkot said Halevi’s many years in intelligence units would equip him to deal with the complex threats posed by the Gaza front.
The incoming commander praised Zamir for his “many achievements” in recent years, thanking him and Eisenkot.
Hamas, which rules Gaza and which openly seeks to destroy Israel, has held weekly massive protests on the border since March 30, including violent riots, attempts to breach the security fence and sending hundreds of flaming kites and balloons over the border, starting countless fires that have destroyed large swathes of land.
Over 110 Gazans have been killed, including over 60 on May 14, the day the US moved its embassy. Hamas said 50 of the May 14 fatalities were its members. May 14 was also the eve of “Nakba Day,” when the Palestinians mark what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with the establishment of Israel.
Israel says its forces have opened fire to stop attempts to harm soldiers, damage the fence and infiltrate Israel in a bid to carry out attacks. Israel accuses Hamas, a terror group which seeks Israel’s destruction, of using the protests as cover for violence.
At least half of those killed since the protests began in March have been identified as members of Hamas or other terror groups.
At least nine terror tunnels have been destroyed in Gaza by Israel since October 30. Five of them were attack tunnels that crossed the border into Israeli territory, the rest were inside the coastal enclave, more likely used to move fighters and munitions around the Strip undetected.