Israel’s Chief of Staff — the right man for a tough job

Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi AshkenaziGabi Ashkenazi, Israel’s Chief of Staff since January 22 of this year doesn’t talk to the press. And he doesn’t allow his officers to do so, either. Or talk to politicians. And he prefers that they do not go to cocktail parties.

Ashkenazi himself wouldn’t have time for parties, since he normally arrives at his desk on or before 7 AM and doesn’t get home to his family until 11 PM.

His predecessor, Dan Halutz, tried to execute surprise inspections of various units. But somehow, the word would get out, and Halutz would arrive at a base and find everything in abnormally perfect order. Ashkenazi does this too, but he tells no one where he is going until he gets into his car and gives instructions to his driver.

Ashkenazi was drafted and joined the Golani Brigade in 1972. He fought in the Sinai in 1973, the Litani campaign in 1978, and the 1982 Lebanon war, where he commanded the forces that captured Beaufort Castle, Nabatiyeh, and Jebel Baruch — some of the fiercest fighting of the war. He has held almost every position there is in the IDF ground forces, and has a remarkable memory for detail. So it is impossible to bullshit him. He knows how everything is supposed to be, and who is responsible for everything.

Dan Halutz, an Air Force man, thought that it was possible to explain logically why something should be done and it would happen. Ashkenazi, a ground combat soldier, understands that it is also necessary for every individual to know with 100% certainty that failure to follow orders and procedures will be noticed and there will be consequences for the responsible party.

Combat soldiers tend to like him. His immediate subordinates learn quickly that they need to be very well prepared at all times.

It would be unfair to call his style ‘management by fear’, because this implies a degree of capriciousness, a situation where no one knows where the lightning will strike next. In the case of Ashkenazi, it’s more like management by total knowledge. There’s nothing arbitrary at all: whoever screws up will pay the price. Don’t screw up and you have nothing to worry about.

Unfortunately, the IDF let a lot of ‘little’ things slide in the period between the two Lebanon wars. We saw then that little things add up, but they are not sliding any more.

In my opinion, it’s very probable that Israel will see war on an even greater scale than 2006 within the next year or so. It looks to me as though Israel has put the right man in place for a very tough job.

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