Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, an infantryman from the Golani Brigade who stood out during the Second Lebanon War for his sober reading of the situation, was tapped Friday as the 21st IDF Chief of the General Staff. The official announcement is set to be made Saturday night.
A senior source in the Defense Ministry said Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Eisenkot on Friday morning and delivered the news. He is set to take up the post on February 15.
Eisenkot — who in 2011 insisted that the army’s top spot be given first to his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Benny 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.
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, 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.”
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.”