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IDF chief: A society that doesn’t back its army will find it has nobody to fight for it

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony on the Israel Navy's Haifa Base, on September 2, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks at a ceremony on the Israel Navy's Haifa Base, on September 2, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi issues an extraordinary statement highlighting the existential imperative that the nation back its army commanders and soldiers.

He is speaking out amid the ongoing controversy over the August 21 killing by a Gaza gunman of Border Police officer Barel Hadaria Shmueli. Shmueli’s parents have refused to accept the IDF’s investigation into the death, and his father has indicated that the prime minister should resign, as the issue has become a focus of partisan politics.

Border Police officer Barel Shmueli (left) killed in a shooting by a Gaza gunman on the border on August 21, 2021, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right). (Border Police; Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“A society that does not back its soldiers and commanders, including when they make mistakes, will discover that it has nobody to fight for it,” Kohavi says in a Rosh Hashana message sent to IDF commanders and soldiers, and released to the media.

“The readiness to sustain loss of life [in the defense of Israel] is crucial to national resilience, and that resilience is vital to the continuation of our very existence.”

Alluding to the IDF investigation of Shmueli’s death, which found flaws in the way the forces at the border operated, but not wider negligence or failures, Kohavi notes that in times of combat, “decisions are usually taken in situations of uncertainty, and quickly, therefore there is always the possibility of mistakes being made.” It is the IDF’s obligation to thoroughly investigate, “to get to the truth and learn the lessons, but mistakes of judgment on the battlefield are not matters for blame and punishment.”

He stresses: “Commanders and soldiers, you have my fullest backing. Continue to initiate and to take responsibility, to be bold, and to bear the consequences,” he writes.

He concludes: “The backing we give you relates first and foremost to the system of command and leadership in the IDF. We will not change it; we will bolster it. This is not only an issue for the IDF, it is an issue for the State of Israel, and at its heart is the question of what kind of military commanders it wants — bold and full of initiative or defensive and hesitant. Be bold.”

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