Former Givati Brigade Commander Brig. Gen. Ofer Winter will serve as the military secretary of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, the IDF Spokesperson’s Office announced Wednesday. The appointment was made by Minister Liberman in consultation with Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, after Eizenkot had recently decided not to promote the senior officer to the post of division commander. Winter will replace Brig. Gen. Yair Coles.
It is widely believed that the reason for Eizenkot and the IDF command to block the advance of Winter, considered one of Israel’s most gifted senior officers, dates back to a July 9, 2014 call the officer, then Givati Brigade commander, made to his soldiers on the eve of entering the Gaza Strip:
“History has chosen us to spearhead the fighting against the terrorist Gazan enemy which abuses, blasphemes and curses the God of Israel’s forces,” Winter wrote. “We have planned and prepared for this moment and we take the mission upon ourselves out of commitment, complete humility, and because we are prepared to endanger ourselves and lay down our lives in order to protect our families, our people and our homeland.”
Winter then recited the Sh’ma Israel prayer, asking “the God of Israel” to “make our path successful as we go and stand to fight for the sake of your people of Israel against a foe who curses your name.”
The General’s inspiring call found its way to Israel’s media and was criticized by the usual suspects, from dedicated anti-religious groups to the Reform clergy. Eizenkot, who spent his term in office degrading the military rabbinate and moving much of its educational program to a secular department, was not amused.
As a result, last November, the chief of staff refused PM Netanyahu’s request to appoint Winter as his military secretary; and last June, Winter’s name was absent from the list of promoted senior officers. Many expected the inspired and inspiring general to retire, but the defense minister saved the day, saving his career and possibly keeping him at the ready for new future promotions.
In recent years, Winter has become the most prominent and admired senior IDF officer who wears a yarmulke. His inability to sail past that Gaza pronouncement has bothered the heads of the religious Zionist movement, most notably Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett. Bennett et al have been pestering the chief of staff about the absence of any senior officer wearing a yarmulke from the General Staff forum. Eizenkot, on his part, promised that this was not a deliberate policy and that he would promote religious officers in the future.
The Israeli military does not collect data classifying soldiers as secular or observant, but according to a detailed study of the Defense Ministry journal Maarachot, the percentage of national religious infantry officer cadets had increased from 2.5% in 1990, to 26% in 2008. More recently, Reuven Gal, chairman of the Israeli Association of Civil-Military Studies, suggested Religious-Zionists now account for as much as half of the army cadets.