‘Look me in the eye’: IDF general who rapped politicians had urged PM to unify country

In recordings aired Thursday, Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfus recounts to troops meeting with Netanyahu after October 7, telling him soldiers must return to a ‘different’ Israel after war

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

The commander of the 98th Division, Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfus, speaks to the press from the Gaza border, March 13, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
The commander of the 98th Division, Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfus, speaks to the press from the Gaza border, March 13, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

An Israel Defense Forces commander who issued a rare public critique of politicians this week had directly voiced his concerns over the country’s divisions to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shortly after Hamas’s October 7 massacre that sparked the war, according to a Thursday report.

Appearing to slam infighting and extremism in the government on Wednesday, Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfus, commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ 98th Division, raised eyebrows when he said politicians “need to be worthy of us. You need to be worthy of the soldiers who lost their lives. You need to be worthy of the reservists who don’t care what [political] side they are on, and fought and fight alongside each other.”

The remarks came at the end of a prepared speech on his division’s operations in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis. While the initial address was approved by the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit, his additional remarks were not, and the officer was summoned by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi for a “clarification conversation,” the IDF said.

In recordings aired by Channel 12 news Thursday, Goldfus was heard telling troops weeks into the war that he had met Netanyahu during his visit to the Mahane Bilu army base a few days after the devastating onslaught, and expressed similar criticisms.

“I wasn’t sure what I’d say to him. I decided on three messages that were important to me,” he told the soldiers. “I told him: Prime minister, before the war we entered now, we were in another war. We were in a war where we were killing one another,” he said, referring to the major societal rift that opened as the government advanced its judicial overhaul legislation.

“We broke one another’s hearts. We spoke disrespectfully toward people. This can’t happen. We are soldiers, we will fight. We will fight where you tell us. But we want to know that we are returning to a different place after the war. No more internal wars…in which we rip out each others’ throats,” he recounted.

For his second message to Netanyahu, Goldfus said he “grabbed him by the hand tightly and said: Prime minister, look me in the eye.”

“I know that you saw those cars that entered Bilu, all those columns of vehicles. They’re impossible to miss. Hundreds of cars, kilometers of cars. These were more reservists than I needed for this, and they came. Nobody hesitated for a second,” he said, calling the reservists the “insurance card” of the country.

Ministers in Netanyahu’s government railed at reservists who stopped volunteering for their duties to protest the judicial overhaul legislation. But when the military issued a call-up when war erupted, the IDF said it had “never mobilized so many reservists so quickly — 300,000 reservists in 48 hours.”

Goldfus also delivered three words to the prime minister in English: “Make it worth [it],” a quote he also used in his speech on Wednesday.

“And I used my general knowledge, and tried to tell him a sentence in Latin, Ex unitate vires, which means ‘from unity, strength.’ I believe greatly in people. I believe greatly in us. I know that we will be victorious against everything before us,” he said.

Goldfus said he refused to address a question if he had faith in his own commanding officers, recounting mistrust and “backstabbing” between officers during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

“I don’t intend to get into this. I’m not going back to that place. I’m dealing with the ‘here and now,’ and our readiness for war,” he said.

The senior officer also stressed to soldiers that revenge was not the goal of the war and that soldiers must adhere to the values of the IDF.

“[The aim] is to defeat the enemy. But there is no contradiction in taking with us the values of the IDF. The opposite is true,” he said. “We are not murderers, we are soldiers.”

The war began on October 7, when thousands of Hamas terrorists attacked southern Israel under a barrage of rockets fired at population centers all over the country. They brutally killed 1,200 people, including cases of torture and rape, and they seized 253 hostages. Israel swiftly declared war on Hamas, vowing to topple the terror group’s regime in Gaza and free the hostages.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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