IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi denounced the government’s plan to reshuffle military power in the West Bank in a series of interviews published Friday, days before his term as army chief ends and at the same time. It largely rejected the powers of the second minister appointed to take up the position in the Ministry of Defense – the Zionist religious leader Bezalel Smotrich.
Kohavi issued a stark warning that the new government’s efforts to spin off some of the defense minister’s responsibilities to Smotridge, including authority over civil affairs in the West Bank, would damage the IDF’s command structure and hamper its readiness.
Smotridge’s role as defense minister ostensibly allowed him to appoint an army general, a hybrid military-civilian coordinator to lead government activities in the territory, and its office, the Civil Administration, which oversees many settlement issues, subject to Netanyahu’s approval. .
“The head of the IDF reports to a minister, the minister of defense, and I have no doubt that this will continue,” Kohavi told Channel 12 News.
His comments drew a harsh response from Smotridge, who is also finance minister, and the far-right leader accused the outgoing army chief of trying to lay the groundwork for a political career.
In the wide-ranging interview, Kohavi also detailed Israel’s ongoing efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear program and efforts to expand its control over the region, as well as the challenge of thwarting Palestinian terror.
“The IDF is responsible for everything that happened in Judea and Samaria, and that’s how it needs to stay,” Kohavi told the Ynet news website, using the biblical name for the West Bank.
“There cannot be two command structures there,” said Kohavi, who stepped down on Monday. “It’s very likely to cause damage and damage our readiness.”
“The border police are doing an excellent job in Judea and Samaria and I hope the situation remains as it is today. The chain of power needs to be preserved,” he said, referring to taking control of the force away from the Israeli police , and place it under the direct control of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
“We cannot allow two armies with different procedures or different concepts,” he added in an interview with Channel 12.
If that happened, he added, in order to prevent two separate chains of command, the military would likely need to replace the border police force with either “standing army soldiers – who therefore don’t have much time to train – or reservists, who shoulder the burden It’s heavy enough.”
Defense Minister Yoav Galante is said to have expressed similar sentiments, telling officers this week, according to Channel 12: “No one can stand between me and the commander of the IDF, not even the IDF commander. One millimeter. I’ll knock out anyone who tries.”
Kohavi shrugged off Ben Gvir’s frequent calls for security forces to enact looser fire-fighting rules.
“Those who think aggressive fire rules are a safety secret are wrong. It has the exact opposite effect,” he said.
Currently, the major general in charge of COGAT is appointed by the Minister of Defense on the recommendation of the IDF Chief of Staff, while the brigadier general in charge of civil affairs is appointed by the IDF Chief of Staff.
Smotridge reacted angrily to Kohavi’s criticism, accusing him of “populism” and laying the groundwork for his future political career.
“If Kohavi wanted to understand, not just attack with populism, to prepare him for entering politics, he could have talked to me and understood that the goal was not to hurt the chain of command of the IDF, but to remove the civil administration from the IDF. And make it a civilian,” Smotridge tweeted Friday.
“The IDF will handle security and the civilian system will manage civilian life. What’s good for the citizens is good for the IDF,” he said.
“Kochavi is confused, forgetting that Israel is a state with an army, not an army with a state. Responsibility has been passed to me by law and I am confident that his successor and other IDF commanders will do so,” Smoot Rich said.
Like most of his predecessors, Kohavi will have to face a three-year cooling-off period before being allowed to enter politics.
Kohavi won the support of former defense minister MK Benny Gantz, who said it is the professional duty of IDF commanders to sound the alarm, “even if it is unpleasant for politicians.”
He also accused Smotridge of waging a “campaign to intimidate and silence senior security officials,” which he warned would compromise Israel’s security.
In the interview, Kohavi also criticized his call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he expressed opposition to the moves. Critics have accused him of meddling in politics.
Kohavi spoke with Netanyahu on the phone in early January, reportedly telling him that handing over responsibilities related to the IDF to any minister other than the defense minister was an unacceptable violation of the IDF chain of command, he said. Determined to make sure the military doesn’t allow it to happen.
In the interview, Kohavi also described another phone call with Netanyahu shortly before the new government took office.
“I think that when it is known who will be the next prime minister, it is right for the prime minister and those involved to listen to us before an agreement is reached on issues that have a significant and profound impact on the role of the IDF and its values, my opinion is Show them the consequences,” Kohavi told Channel 12.
“It’s not about politics. It’s what is expected of the IDF chief in this case,” he said. “We put forward our reasons and considerations, because they have a lot of reason and a solid foundation, and I think they will be seriously considered.”
Kohavi will resign as commander-in-chief of the IDF on January 16 and hand over power to Herz Halevy.
In an interview with the Walla news site, Kohavi also spoke about his clashes with some right-wing politicians after the Israel Defense Forces disciplined a soldier for taunting a left-wing activist in the West Bank city of Hebron in November.
“We act in a clear way to define and protect our values,” he said, adding that a letter he published in response to the backlash “clearly explains things.”
“That’s the IDF commander and my job as an army commander – to define the professional and moral compass, and that’s the right thing to do, I think, how it will happen next time.”
iran and hezbollah
Kohavi said that aside from dealing with domestic politics, the military’s biggest challenge remains Iran and preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Kohavi told Walla that a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was the “primary task” facing the army, and vowed that “the IDF will be ready to carry out the mission the day it is ordered.”
The IDF has ramped up preparations for a credible military threat to Tehran’s nuclear facilities over the past two years amid growing uncertainty over Iran’s return to the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with Western powers.
Israel has been urging the United States to develop a military contingency plan to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Biden has said he is prepared to use force if necessary, but still prefers to exhaust diplomatic avenues first.
Asked what would happen if the U.S. did not join the Israeli attack, Kohavi said, “Israel must be able to carry out this operation, even if it means we go it alone.”
Kohavi told Ynet that he opposed the 2015 deal because it would have given the Iranians an unlimited supply of enriched uranium at a limited purity level and run advanced centrifuges after 2031.
“The link between these two things will allow them to obtain enough nuclear material for a bomb within weeks,” he claimed.
“If signed, the new agreement cannot have an expiration date. This time, it also needs to include oversight of its weapons collection and ballistic missile development,” he added.
In the interview, Kohavi said the IDF was working to prevent the transfer of precision weapons to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon, and promised that the IDF would be ready for an escalation along the northern border.
“We had quite a few successes. They were not 100 percent. On the day of the war, we had the means to hit the few missiles that Hezbollah managed to place or build,” he told the Walla news website.
In an interview with the Israel Hayom daily, Kohavi also warned of powerful retaliation if Hezbollah decides to attack: “If they strike with a level 3 on a scale of 1 to 10, we will respond with a level 7-8. That’s our plan.”
Kohavi also described the IDF’s success in preventing Iran from gaining a significant foothold in Syria. Israel has allegedly carried out hundreds of strikes against targets inside Syria in recent years, but few such operations have been acknowledged or discussed. It has, however, acknowledged that it has targeted arms shipments and positions of groups allied with Iran, such as the Lebanese terrorist Hezbollah.
“Iran’s vision in Syria has been completely disrupted. In the Syrian Golan, there should be hundreds of thousands of ground and air missiles, and tens of thousands of militias parallel to Hezbollah,” he told Maariv daily, adding that the military It also undermined efforts to smuggle weapons from Iran into Syria.
Preventing Terrorism in the West Bank and Gaza
In the interview, the outgoing military chief discussed the ongoing operation to combat terrorists in the West Bank following a string of Palestinian attacks that killed 31 people in 2022.
IDF operations resulted in the arrest of more than 2,500 people in near-nightly raids. It also killed more than 170 Palestinians in 2022 and nine more since the start of the year, many in attacks or clashes with security forces, but also civilians who were not involved.
“We stopped about 400 terrorist attacks, and the ones we didn’t stop, we’re investigating,” he told Ynet.
“Unlike before, there are no terrorist groups behind these attacks, but lone wolf terrorists. It comes from the deep frustration of the citizens of the Palestinian Authority, some of whom have found their way through terrorist attacks because of their economic situation. way to vent,” he explained.
Kohavi outlined a three-pronged approach to enhancing security, including “strengthening of forces along West Bank security barriers and the seam zone, internal activities along roads and settlements, and most importantly – deep offensive operations, round-the-clock , based on excellent intelligence from Shin Bet, military intelligence, and infiltrating to the deepest level to uproot the terrorists from them.”
Regarding the southern front, Kohavi praised the IDF’s actions against terrorist infrastructure during Operation Wall Defender 2021, especially Hamas’ tunnel system.
“possible [current quiet] The reality created in the Gaza Strip will last for a long time, but it depends on what happens on other fronts, such as on the Temple Mount, Judea and Samaria,” he told the Maariv daily.