Herzi Halevi, Kohavi’s deputy, named as next IDF chief of staff

Defense minister chooses frontrunner candidate, who led Southern Command through several rounds of fighting and headed Military Intelligence; will take up post in January

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the then-commander of the IDF Southern Command, speaks during a conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the then-commander of the IDF Southern Command, speaks during a conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, a paratrooper who has long been considered a frontrunner to lead the Israeli military, was nominated Sunday by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to become the next chief of the Israel Defense Forces.

In a statement, the Defense Ministry said Gantz spoke to Halevi to deliver the news. He is set to take up the post in January.

“He is the most suitable officer in terms of the rich operational experience he has in a variety of areas, as well as in terms of his command abilities and his approach to various military issues, which he has demonstrated throughout his years of service,” Gantz said in a statement.

Halevi, 54, headed the Southern Command during several rounds of fighting between Israel and terrorists in the Gaza Strip in 2018 and 2019, as well as the Military Intelligence Directorate. He has most recently been serving as deputy chief of IDF staff, a pivotal post on the path to the top spot.

The appointment was considered unorthodox ahead of Israel’s November election, as caretaker governments have traditionally shied away from filling senior positions. But Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said last month that she found the contents of a classified dossier along with a legal opinion provided by the Defense Ministry to be sufficient to allow the process to go ahead.

By law, candidates for IDF chief of staff, as well as other senior positions such as police commissioner and Bank of Israel governor, must be vetted by the Senior Appointments Advisory Committee. After that, a nominee is confirmed in a cabinet vote.

Then-commanding Officer of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi (L), is seen with additional commanders touring the Gaza border on March 30, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Halevi will become the IDF’s 23rd chief of staff when he replaces Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, whose tenure ends in January 2023.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid hailed the nomination of Halevi, calling it a “worthy and natural” selection.

“Herzi is an excellent commander who is rich in experience and skill. I’m sure he’ll lead the IDF to many significant accomplishments,” Lapid said on Twitter.

The second candidate named by Gantz in June was Eyal Zamir, a former IDF deputy chief of staff currently serving as a research fellow at the Washington Institute think tank.

Gantz spoke to Zamir on Sunday and said “he was sure that he will continue to contribute to Israel.” Lapid also praised the runner-up.

File: Defense Minister Benny Gantz (left) and deputy IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi, in an undated photo published September 4, 2022. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

Meanwhile, Kohavi spoke to both Halevi and Zamir. “The chief of staff welcomes the selection of a highly talented and experienced officer. The chief of staff congratulated Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi on his nomination to the position and wished him success,” the military said in a statement.

“Also, the chief of staff thanked Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir for his successful and accomplished service, and wished him success in his future,” the statement added.

Zamir, 56, was considered a dark horse, after being named as a candidate in 2018 but ultimately not being nominated to replace then-chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot. Between 2012 and 2015, Zamir was then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military secretary.

Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, then-outgoing IDF deputy chief of staff during a ceremony July 11, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Philosopher and commander of elite unit

A husband and father of four, Halevi holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and business administration from the Hebrew University, and a master’s degree in national resource management from the National Defense University in the United States.

He lives in the settlement of Kfar HaOranim, which straddles the West Bank border close to the city of Modiin.

Then-outgoing chief of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, during a ceremony appointing the new commander of the unit, at the Glilot military base, near Tel Aviv, March 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Halevi, born in Jerusalem, was named after his uncle, also a paratrooper, who was killed on June 7, 1967, as Israeli forces recaptured the Western Wall during the Six Day War.

He began his military service in 1985 and joined the paratrooper brigade. After completing an officers training course and commanding a squadron, he moved over to the elite Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit, becoming its commander in 2001.

In a 2013 interview with The New York Times, Halevi said he found his philosophy studies far more useful than business administration in the military.

“People used to tell me that business administration is for the practical life and philosophy is for the spirit,” Halevi told the newspaper at the time. “Through the years I found it is exactly the opposite — I used philosophy much more practically.”

“Philosophers that spoke about how to balance, how to prioritize principles in a right way,” he said, citing Plato, Socrates, and Maimonides. “This is something that I find very helpful.”

The nearly decade-old interview stated that Halevi was “considered a top candidate to someday lead the military as chief of staff.”

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