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Israeli Army Chief Didn’t Toe Netanyahu’s Line. The Pushback Was Swift

Given the numerous speculations about his political plans and the reports of scenarios presenting him as a future candidate for prime minister, IDF chief of staff Aviv Kochavi is not displaying especially sharp political sensibilities.

This week, too, he seems to have been taken by surprise when he faced an offensive of mouthpieces on the eve of the Knesset election.

Kochavi’s dire sin was that he dared to leave the country for three whole days, acceding to the invitation of President Reuven Rivlin to accompany him on a visit to meet with his counterparts in Germany, France and Austria.

On the agenda were three principal issues: the Iranian nuclear program, Iranian aid for weapons procurement by Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in the Middle East, and Israel’s opposition to the start of an investigation by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on suspicion of the perpetration of war crimes in the territories.

The chief of staff’s surveys were heard very attentively – and revealed an interesting phenomenon. Israel’s declarations in the past few months were not given great credence in the European capitals, but were perceived mainly as declamations from a propagandistic message sheet.

Kochavi for the first time lent a degree of gravitas and professional authority to the Israeli arguments about the need to ensure that the new nuclear agreement, if the United States returns to it, will confront the Iranians with tougher demands.

The attacks on Kochavi in the right-wing media, in the service of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were grounded in his choosing to cooperate with Israel’s “most political president.”

There were even hints that Kochavi would pay for joining Rivlin, because Netanyahu will punish him by refusing to extend his term as chief of staff for a fourth year, as is standard practice.

That sounds like an extreme, far-reaching development, but the truth is that it’s impossible to know anymore.

On the eve of the election, Netanyahu Sr. is sounding increasingly like his alter ego, his son Yair.

This week he savaged A., the outgoing deputy Mossad chief, who was critical of his decisions on the Iranian issue, and announced that A. had “begged” him to be appointed head of the espionage organization.

Earlier, when he was asked about a violent assault by Likud supporters on Gideon Sa’ar, the head of the New Hope party, he halfheartedly condemned violence against an “irrelevant candidate” (thereby giving the assailants a wink and a nod). Given this lordly frame of mind, it’s hard to anticipate how the prime minister will behave.

Still, there’s a certain irony in the disproportionate reviling of Kochavi. More than two years ago, when he took over as chief of staff, he was warmly embraced by Netanyahu’s supporters in the media.

Wishing to settle accounts with the former chief of staff, Gadi Eizenkot, for the moral stance he adopted in the case of the “shooting soldier,” Elor Azaria, they almost swooned with ecstasy when Kochavi talked about his intention to strengthen the element of “lethality” in the IDF. Afterward they inflated every minor operational incident to dimensions of exemplary patriotism, proving how far Kochavi exceeded his predecessor.

Some people warned the new chief of staff not to be swept away by the praise being heaped on him, to bear in mind that the background to this ardor was not necessarily substantive and that things could go the other way, too.

In the meantime, as with every chief of staff, embarrassments and hitches are cropping up here and there in Kochavi’s tenure, some of which are almost unavoidable in such a large organization. Those mistakes were whipped out against him, once more with unjustified inflation, from the moment he supposedly hooked up with the man the Bibi-ists loathe, President Rivlin.

Screen potatoes

The IDF summed up the 2020 training year with satisfaction. Despite the coronavirus epidemic, and to some degree because of it, the regular field units completed a relatively broad scope of training. The fact that in the lockdowns the soldiers had to remain in their units, and hardly went on furlough, allowed more time for training and made for a more effective training period.

The army is especially pleased with an ongoing improvement in the physical fitness and operational capability of the combat troops in the elite units. That is explained, in units such as the commando brigade, in part by the fact that the vast majority of these troops enter the army with a background of competitive sports activity as children and teens. But it would seem that over the years the army has become adept at improving and facilitating the process of fitness building in the combat troops, which takes place today in a more systematic manner from the moment of recruitment.

Nevertheless, the epidemic also brings bad news.

According to initial data collected about those drafted in last year’s August and November call-ups for the field units, two worrisome phenomena, which perhaps should not come as a surprise, have appeared.

This is a generation of high-school graduates who spent their final months of study imprisoned at home, experiencing remote learning via Zoom. The immediate result is a considerable increase in the BMI, the body mass index, attesting to obesity in the average draftee.

In addition, the army’s impression is that there is a certain decline in the mental resilience of some of the new recruits. These phenomena, too, it turns out, are among the consequences of the most serious epidemic humanity has experienced in the past hundred years.

Source: Amos Harel – HAARETZ

Header: Aviv Kochavi in Tiberias last yearCredit: Gil Eliahu