The process of selecting the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, one of the highest-profile positions in the state, is under way – and four generals are vying for the top military role.
Current IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot is set to step down in less than six months, after serving close to four years as the IDF’s top officer.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman began the procedure for selecting Eisenkot’s replacement last week and has interviewed the four candidates in the running: Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, his predecessor Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, former head of Operations Directorate Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon and former head of the Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir.
The selection process, which is based on recommendations by the military advocate general, consists of six stages, with Liberman consulting with Eisenkot and former senior officials such as prime ministers, defense ministers, chiefs of staff and others.
According to reports in Hebrew media, Liberman has narrowed down his preferred candidates to two.
Kochavi, a charismatic paratroop officer, is considered to be the front-runner.
Born in 1964, Kochavi enlisted in the Paratroopers Brigade in 1982 and has served in multiple command roles throughout his career.
He served as Eastern Division commander of the Lebanon Liaison Unit (1998-1999) and commander of the Paratrooper Brigade (2001-2003), where he commanded troops against Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank during the Second Intifada. He also commanded the IDF’s elite Airborne Division before serving as commander of the Gaza Division from 2004 to 2006.
He also held several key positions in the General Staff, commanding the Operations Division, Head of Military Intelligence (2010-2014), head of the Northern Command and then his current position as deputy chief of staff.
Kochavi has a BA in philosophy from the Hebrew University, a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.
Golan was drafted into the Paratroopers Brigade in 1980 and has held numerous command positions throughout his 37-year military career.
He served as commander of the 890 Paratroopers Battalion where he led soldiers in counter-guerrilla operations in South Lebanon.
In 1997, while serving as commander of the Eastern Brigade of the Lebanon Liaison Unit, he was wounded in a firefight with Hezbollah terrorists in the South Lebanon security zone but continued to command his troops.
Golan also commanded the Nahal Infantry Brigade during the Second Intifada before commanding the 91st Division, and then headed the Judea and Samaria Division during Operation Defensive Shield.
He served as the head of the IDF Operations Directorate and commander of the Home Front Command between 2008 and 2011, before serving as head of the Northern Command and then as deputy chief of staff before he was replaced by Kochavi in May 2017.
Eloquent in both Hebrew and English, he received his BA in political science from Tel Aviv University and an MA in public administration from Harvard University. He is also a graduate of both the IDF’s Command and Staff College and the US Army War College.
But Golan, who is known to voice his opinions and isn’t afraid to insist on them, has made several controversial statements and faces a petition by the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization, which called on Liberman to drop him from the list of candidates.
In 2016 Golan was highly criticized and received a rebuke from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he compared current trends in Israeli society to those of pre-World War II Germany during a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony.
“If there is something that frightens me in the memory of the Holocaust, it is identifying horrifying processes that occurred in Europe... 70, 80 and 90 years ago and finding evidence of their existence here in our midst, today in 2016,” he said during the ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Nevertheless Liberman said that Golan’s comments and the petition would not influence his choice for chief of staff, and the IDF made a rare public statement in support of Golan, tweeting that “his contribution to the security of Israel is great. Presenting Maj.-Gen. Golan as though he didn’t take action or won’t take action against terrorists does not match reality. Any attempt to sully the good name of an IDF commander and his operational contributions is unacceptable.”
Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, another general vying for the top spot, is currently in charge of a special IDF project to coordinate all issues related to Iran.
Most of his career was in the elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit; he was appointed its commander in 1998. In 2003 he was appointed commander of the 551st Brigade and in 2005 as commander of the Etzion Regional Brigade in the Central Command.
Two years later he was appointed to found and command the IDF Intelligence Branch’s new Operations Division in charge of Israel’s “war between wars,” overseeing special-forces operations in various arenas.
He also served as commander of the Judea and Samaria Division from 2009 to 2011 before being appointed head of the Central Command in 2012.
While he has spent the majority of his career in secretive positions, he was twice passed over for the role of Military Intelligence chief and is seen as unlikely to get the position of chief of staff.
Another general in the running is Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir, who recently finished serving as head of the Southern Command.
Zamir, who spent most of his career in the Armored Corps, is the youngest of the candidates.
He commanded the 7th Armored Brigade as well as the Ga’ash Division and held a number of key positions in the Ground Forces Command before serving as military aide to Netanyahu, a key position where he acted as the prime minister’s chief military and intelligence-affairs adviser. He was then appointed as head of the Southern Command, his only General Staff posting.
While he is the least experienced of the four candidates and likely will not get named for the top appointment, he has a good chance of being appointed deputy chief of staff.