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Kohavi rejects idea Israel’s best should go to cyber units, says fighters are elite

Speaking at graduation ceremony for Air Force pilots, IDF chief says parts of population have ‘distorted values,’ place pursuit of money over willingness to sacrifice for country

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi shakes hands with a graduates during a ceremony marking the end of the Israeli Air Force's pilot course, at the Hatzerim airbase in southern Israel, on December 22, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF chief Aviv Kohavi shakes hands with a graduates during a ceremony marking the end of the Israeli Air Force's pilot course, at the Hatzerim airbase in southern Israel, on December 22, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi on Wednesday hit back at the notion that Israel’s elites should join the military’s cyber units, saying that “the best” continue to be those who are willing to sacrifice and join combat units.

Kohavi, speaking at a graduation ceremony for new Air Force pilots, said he was dismayed to have seen a recent billboard in Herzliya saying “The best to cyber,” a riff on a long-time saying in Israel that the best recruits become pilots.

Recent years have seen a shift in the prestige of Israel’s cyber units, like the vaunted unit 8200, not only for their growing role in hacking Israel’s enemies, but with many ex-unit members going on to set up lucrative high-tech startups.

But Kohavi warned against this trend.

“No, no, that’s a mistake. The message inherent in the sign is deeper than it appears,” Kohavi said. “It represents a loss of way and distorted values among parts of the population. The best are first of all the fighters.”

“Who marches in a silent column and captures the killers in the heart of a Palestinian village? The fighters. Who lies along the borders and foils infiltrations? The fighters. Who crosses our borders week after week and flies to attack enemy weapons? The fighters,” Kohavi said.

IDF soldiers patrol a street in the northern West Bank village of Salem, east of Nablus, during an operation to arrest wanted Palestinians early on May 30, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)

“Cyber has great potential, and it apparently brings in a lot of money. The people who go there are talented, but the best — they are first and foremost measured by their willingness to give to the country,” he said.

“The best are those willing to endanger their lives to save others — that is the clearest expression of ‘the best,’ and don’t dare take that from us,” he warned.

President Isaac Herzog also addressed the cadets, saying Israel knew that its safety was in the “best hands.”

“At the end of a long and demanding journey and a complicated training program, today you receive your wings and spread your wings. I know, and the people of Israel know, that the mission is in the best hands and that we have someone to rely on,” Herzog said.

Israeli Air Force pilots throw their hats in the air as they celebrate during an air show at the graduation ceremony of Israeli air force pilots at the Hatzerim Israeli Air Force base in the Negev desert, near the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva, on December 22, 2021. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The IDF has in recent years dealt with a drop in motivation to serve in combat units, fueled in part by the difficult conditions experienced compared to those who serve in office surroundings.

It has also been exacerbated by large swaths of the population, particularly the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities, who mostly don’t serve at all.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced the formation of a committee to consider reforms to Israel’s military and national service drafts, and potentially expanding the national service requirement into a mandatory program.

Gantz has repeatedly called for national service reform, saying that without such an effort, the country would be forced to end the draft and change the IDF into a volunteer, professional army.

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