Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, 55, on Monday becomes the new IDF Chief of Staff, replacing Aviv Kochavi. Halevi’s appointment was problematic from the start: while no one doubted his qualifications, then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz, serving in a provisional government that eventually lost the election, insisted on picking Halevi instead of waiting for the next, real defense minister to do it. Gantz cited crucial security considerations that prevented him from asking Lieutenant General Kochavi to stay in office another three months – and the defense minister received the support of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara who found no problem in anything the provisional Lapid-Gantz government felt like doing.
And so, for no fault of his own, Chief of Staff Halevi has been involved in a political brawl months before taking office, and even though he was considered almost unanimously to be the best man for the job.
Welcome to Israel, 2023, where everything you say is analyzed and assigned a woke value, and where no one is your friend. A case in point: on Monday morning, a Haredi Kan 11 correspondent named Michael Shemesh, whose ability to distinct between things important and trivial is severely impaired, published an old recording of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich––meticulously kept for just the right moment when it would do the most damage––where Smotrich is clearly saying: “Does a traditional Sephardi care about gays? It interests his grandmother (meaning it doesn’t – DI).” And: “I won’t stone gays and you won’t feed me shrimps.” It fed a two-hour scandal whereby every opposition member with a Twitter account (most notably Yair Lapid) condemned the “racist” finance minister and the “weak” prime minister who lets him say such terrible things against shrimps.
This is the political boiling hell into which Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi is stepping Monday morning, and his first and foremost mission must be to keep the army, the last vestige of trust and accountability in Israel (although that, too, is waning) out of politics.
Good luck. Really, with complete sincerity, good luck, Mr. Chief of Staff, I admire your willingness to shoulder this heavy responsibility.
The IDF publishing house Ma’arachot last week published a remarkably well-written essay by three senior officers, titled, “The golden age of security and its decline,” where they argue that Israel used to enjoy a golden age of security which is no longer with us:
Israel is facing a new security era, created by a sharp and fundamental change in the characteristics of the previous geostrategic system. The new era is challenging and has more serious risks than those we have known in the past four decades. At the heart of the change was a deep erosion in three strategic “privileges” that characterized the previous decades, thanks to which we experienced a “Golden Age of security”:
- The privilege of the limited threat
- The privilege of American hegemony and its firm support for Israel
- The privilege of the shared ethos
The authors presented a diagram detailing the decline of those three advantages, showing how Iran’s nuclear program, supported by Russia’s regional ambitions has led to a serious threat against Israel it hasn’t experienced in 40 years; the erosion of the support for Israel by the Democratic party in the US is presenting a new political challenge that hasn’t been there since before 1967; and the increased tribalism in Israeli society, combined with the decline in enlistment to the “people’s army” is testing the country’s internal strength.
On the plus side, the authors cite Israel’s enormous technical superiority over the entire region, the increasing regional cooperation, and the country’s robust economy which help establish it as a regional superpower.
These are the new realities Chief of Staff Halevi is facing today.
Halevi’s military career has been stellar. He was drafted in 1985 and volunteered to serve in the Paratroopers Brigade, where he became squad leader. In 1987, he completed officers’ school and returned to the Paratroopers Brigade as a platoon leader. He led the brigade’s anti-tank company in counter-guerrilla operations during the South Lebanon conflict. Later, he was assigned to the Sayeret Matkal special force, where he served as a company commander during the Second Intifada. His next command was the Menashe Regional Brigade. During Operation Cast Lead, he commanded the Paratroopers Brigade. Later, he commanded the infantry 91st Division.
In September 2014, Halevi became chief of Military Intelligence at the rank of Major General. In 2018, he became commander of Israel’s Southern Command. In November 2019, Halevi commanded IDF’s Southern Command forces in Operation Black Belt that inflicted serious damage to the Islamic Jihad. On July 11, 2021, he was appointed deputy chief of staff, a post that traditionally is the stepping stone to taking command of the IDF. He was nominated to be the next chief of staff by Defense Minister Benny Gantz on September 4, 2022, two months before the voters kicked Gantz out of office (see scandal paragraph above).
He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and business management from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a master’s degree in international resource management from the National Defense University in Washington, DC.
Halevi is named after his late uncle who was killed in the battle of Jerusalem in the Six-Day war. He studied at the Himmelfarb religious high school and was part of the religious scouts’ tribe Masuot. He lives in Kfar Ha’Oranim, which is located outside and inside the green line, married to Sharon and the father of four children. He keeps a traditional lifestyle.