New Israeli Chief of Staff Pledges to Keep Politics Out of the Military

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Photo by Gideon Markowicz/TPS on 16 January, 2023
By Pesach Benson • 16 January, 2023

Jerusalem, 16 January, 2023 (TPS) — Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi pledged to keep politics out of the military on his first day as Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces.

“Our enemies should know: We can do what we say we will do, and we are ready to do much more than what we say,” Halevi said in remarks at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, where he was formally promoted.

“We will prepare the IDF for war against arenas far and near; we will expand quality recruitment to the IDF from all strata of the population, the source of our strength; we will strengthen the reserve army and maintain a united, focused, moral and professional IDF, free from all considerations other than security,” he insisted.

The comments apparently referred to Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich, who also holds a special ministerial-level role within Israel’s Defense Ministry, overseeing the civil administration of Judea and Samaria. Oversight of Judea and Samaria’s civil infrastructure was previously held by the Defense Minister. Outgoing Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and other members of the security objected to the arrangement, which the Knesset approved.

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Defense Minister Yoav Galant made a similar vow.

“For every soldier and officer – there is one commander above all, the Chief of Staff, the highest command in the army, subordinate to the Minister of Defense,” Galant insisted. “I will make sure outside pressure – political, legal and otherwise – stop at me and do not reach the gates of the IDF.”

Following the ceremony at the Prime Minister’s Office, Halevi paid customary visits to the National Memorial Hall for Israel’s Fallen next to the Mount Herzl military cemetery and to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. The holy site is the remainder of a retaining wall around the Temple Mount, where the First and Second Temples of biblical times stood.

Halevi also visited President Isaac Herzog, who thanked the Chief of Staff “for saying and underscoring that the IDF must be beyond all politics.”

Later in the day, Halevi departed for Tel Aviv, where the IDF’s headquarters are, for Kochavi’s farewell ceremony.

Meanwhile, Hamas released an undated video purporting to show Avera Mengistu, an Israeli national who has been held captive in Gaza since 2014. Hamas called the video a “message” to outgoing Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi. Hamas also holds captive Hisham al-Sayed and the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed while fighting in Gaza in 2014.

Halevi, 55, has been in military service since 1985, starting off as a paratrooper and climbing the ranks ever since. He was nominated for Chief of Staff by former Defense Minister Benny Gantz in September. The position of Chief of Staff is a three-year appointment with the possibility of a one-year extension.

The new Chief of Staff will be immediately challenged by the Palestinian security escalation in Judea and Samaria, Iranian efforts to entrench itself and its proxy militias in Syria, and confronting Iran’s nuclear program.

Married with four children, Halevi lives in Kfar Oranim, in the Binyamin region. Born and raised in Jerusalem, Halevi is the first graduate of a religious high school to become Chief of Staff.

Halevi succeeds Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, whose own term as Chief of Staff was marked by difficulties. While Israel had five national elections between April 2019-November 2022, Kochavi served under four different Defense Ministers. The political paralysis led to budget issues, which were further complicated by the Coronavirus pandemic.

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