Israel: The End of history and of the only democracy in the Middle East and one less member of Biden’s Alliance of Democracies?
It looks like we are witnessing the end of the only democracy in the Middle East: Israel. Bibi is following Orban’s path. Interesting are media reports that Israel is supposed to have no constitution or one that does not clearly regulate the separation of powers, as now by law the Supreme Court and the Judiciary will be de facto subordinated to the Knesset. Further settlement programs were approved, Ben Gvir visited the Temple Mount as Sharon once did and wants to provoke. U.S. President Biden congratulated Netanyahu on his inauguration, but stressed that the U.S. was committed to the two-state solution, as if that were still on the agenda, so is putting a good face on the bad matter. J Street and J Call are writing exhortations, the Jewish diaspora does not seem to be enthusiastic either, and according to the Jerusalem Post, one Israeli is already founding an exodus program in case Israel goes under, that a safe haven can be found in the USA. Something similar was already once in the discussion in view of the Iranian danger, but that other exodus project wanted to buy Greek islands and settle there, which would not be now however also not a safe rescue haven due to Islamist Erdogan’s aggressive demands concerning the Aegean islands. Interesting also the warning of 400 former IDF generals, Mossad and Shin Bet chiefs – and officers in an open letter that the new right-wing radical government endangers the security of Israel, both in terms of foreign, as well as domestic and security policy, but above all the defense capability of the IDF. The right-wing radicals and religious fundamentalists in the new Israeli government then accused the IDF of being left-wing and infiltrated by leftists, a charge that was indignantly rejected. A Jerusalem Post article also reported that IDF Chief of Staff Kohavi would be the key pillar of U.S.-Israel security policy, as the Biden administration is expected to have a very rough relationship with the new Israeli government. Now it is reported that Kohavi will soon quit. It remains unclear who will be the successor and whether it was Kohavi´s end of his term of duty, his political positions and loyalties, as there is also the military argument from other IDF officers that Kohavi retooled the IDF into a hitech force and neglected ground forces, but ground operations would still be decisive in a war.
“Kohavi turned the IDF into a willfully unprepared ‚hi-tech company‘ – senior IDF official
Kohavi’s focus on hi-tech and innovation has all come “at the expense of the ground forces, which will determine the outcome on the battlefield,“ the officer accused.
By Jerusalem Post Staff
Published: JANUARY 8, 2023 21:13
Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi’s plan to turn Israel’s military into a technology and innovation hub has resulted in the IDF being run into the ground and its combat soldiers becoming willfully unprepared, an unnamed military official told KAN Reshet Bet in an interview on Sunday.
“We are on the brink of having minimal troops facing more complex threats than anything we have experienced in recent years,” the senior officer said. “Israel may face a heavy campaign combined with internal challenges in which every combat soldier will be relevant and his shortcomings will be felt.”
The officer heavily criticized Kohavi’s December announcement that Israel had struck Iranian arms convoys along the Syrian-Iraqi border, asking what the point of the announcement had been if “the enemy doesn’t know that we attacked the eighth truck?”
The eighth truck was a reference to Kohavi’s statement that Israel had “perfect intelligence” to hit “truck No. 8” out of a 25-truck caravan, because it knew that this truck was the one containing Iranian weapons.
“With all the importance of the attacks in Syria where we are ‘heroes,’ in Lebanon they are quietly setting up factories, continuing to manufacture and build precision rockets and long-range missiles and we do not react,” the officer said. “When they have precision rockets in their hands, it will be a different war.”
Later in the interview, the officer turned his attention to what he referred to as the plan to turn the IDF into “a hi-tech company,” which he said Kohavi implemented during his time as chief of staff.
The IDF’s Momentum multi-year plan, called Tnufa in Hebrew, was founded with the intention of transforming the military into a “deadly, efficient and innovative” one, with the renewed offensive initiative, particularly with creative technologies relating to artificial intelligence, robots, drones and more.
The focus on hi-tech and innovation has all come “at the expense of the ground forces, which will determine the outcome on the battlefield,” the official told Reshet Bet.
The officer also criticized the decision not to employ the use of IDF ground troops during Operation Guardian of the Wall in 2021.
“We planned on hundreds of dead terrorists. It could have been a strategic victory,” he said. “We saved it [the ground invasion] for war, but in the end it was decided not to bring in troops. They were afraid of endangering soldiers who were prepared with all the protective equipment.”
The Guardian of the Walls operation was one of the first times that Kohavi’s Tnufa project was put to the test.
An IDF Intelligence Corps senior officer said at the time that, “for the first time, artificial intelligence was a key component and power multiplier in fighting the enemy. This is a first-of-its-kind campaign for the IDF. We implemented new methods of operation and used technological developments that were a force multiplier for the entire IDF.”
Responding to the officer’s radio interview, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit issued a statement saying that, “the allegations do not reflect the situation in the IDF. Some of them are wrong, and others are devoid of any foundation.”
The IDF’s chain of command is also seen as being threatened by the new ministerial powers and selection.
“Basic Law: The Military says only defense minister in charge
Kohavi said to tell Netanyahu IDF won’t answer in any way to Smotrich and Ben Gvir
Coalition deals that give the Religious Zionism leader authority over COGAT, and Otzma Yehudit head partial control of Border Police, breach chain of command, outgoing CoS insists
By ToI5 January 2023, 9:25 pm
Outgoing military chief of staff Aviv Kohavi has reportedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other senior coalition politicians that the Israel Defense Forces will not be answerable in any way to ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, even though the two far-right leaders have been given ministerial responsibility for some aspects of the IDF as part of their coalition agreements.
Kohavi regards the handing of IDF-related responsibilities to any minister other than the defense minister as an unacceptable breach of the IDF chain of command, and is determined to ensure that the military does not allow it to happen, Channel 12 news reported Thursday evening.
It is understood, indeed, that Kohavi regards any requirement for the chief of staff to report to anyone other than the defense minister as a breach of the quasi-constitutional Basic Law: The Military, whose Clause 2 (b) specifies: “The Minister in charge of the army on behalf of the Government is the Minister of Defense.”
“The chief of staff will not work with any additional minister, under any circumstances, other than the defense minister,” Channel 12 news quoted Kohavi telling Netanyahu and others in recent days.
“If control of the Border Police is transferred out of the IDF’s command in Judea and Samaria, and out of the command of the blue [national] police [inside Israel], we will deploy soldiers and reservists [rather than the Border Police],” he reportedly added. “Forces operating together will not have two commanders.”
Kohavi, who steps down as IDF chief on January 16 and hands over to Herzi Halevi, spoke by telephone two weeks ago with Netanyahu to express concern about coalition deals that provide for Religious Zionism leader Smotrich, who is now both the finance minister and a sort of junior minister in the Defense Ministry, and Otzma Yehudit leader Ben Gvir, the new minister of national security, to gain new powers that would impact the IDF.
Specifically, Smotrich’s role as a minister within the Defense Ministry ostensibly allows him to appoint the generals leading the hybrid civil-military Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories and its office overseeing many settlement issues, the Civil Administration, subject to Netanyahu’s approval.
Currently, the major general in charge of COGAT is appointed by the defense minister at the recommendation of the IDF chief of staff, and the brigadier general overseeing the Civil Administration is appointed by the IDF chief of staff.
Ben Gvir, meanwhile, was awarded control of the West Bank Border Police as part of his expanded role as minister in charge of police. The unit is currently subordinate to the army and Defense Ministry. His coalition deal also specified that he would be given direct control over the entire Border Police.
After news of their phone call was leaked, an IDF spokesman said Netanyahu and Kohavi had agreed “that decisions that are tied to the IDF will be made only after the IDF presents the consequences and significance of such decisions.”
Kohavi’s reported further remarks to Netanyahu would suggest that he remains concerned by the new ministerial arrangements, and is determined to resist them — both by opposing them in principle and by taking steps to ensure they are not put into practical effect.
The TV report said Netanyahu and Gallant both encouraged Kohavi to “calm down” and assured him that he and his successor Halevi would be able to present their concerns before the cabinet, and that decisions would be taken only after that.
Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu convened the first meeting of the key decision-making, 11-minister security cabinet, which includes Gallant, Smotrich and Ben Gvir.
It will also be interesting to see whether there will then be any refusal of orders on the part of the IDF, since Kohavi, for example, has already announced that he will only accept orders and reports from the defense minister. Smotrich, in turn, accuses Kohavi of wanting to enter politics after his departure and of acting populist:
“Smotrich calls Kohavi a ‚populist‘ trying to enter politics
Army chief spurns Smotrich’s W. Bank powers: IDF reports only to defense minister
In farewell interviews, Kohavi warns against move to split control of military between ministers; says more aggressive open-fire rules will bring less security — not more
By ToI staff13 January 2023, 11:13 am
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi denounced the government’s plan to restructure military authority in the West Bank in a series of interviews published on Friday, days before the end of his term as army chief, while largely rejecting the authority of the second minister appointed a role in the Defense Ministry — Religious Zionism chief Bezalel Smotrich.
Kohavi issued a stark warning that efforts by the new government to split off parts of the responsibilities from the defense minister to Smotrich, including authority over civil affairs in the West Bank, would damage the IDF’s command structure and hamper its battle readiness.
Smotrich’s role as a minister within the Defense Ministry ostensibly allows him to appoint the army generals leading the hybrid civil-military Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories and its office overseeing many settlement issues, the Civil Administration, subject to Netanyahu’s approval.
Speaking to Channel 12 news, Kohavi said: “The IDF chief reports to one minister, the minister of defense, and I have no doubt that this will continue.”
His comments drew a harsh response from Smotrich, who is also finance minister, with the far-right leader accusing the outgoing army chief of trying to lay the groundwork for a political career.
In wide-ranging interviews, Kohavi also detailed Israel’s ongoing efforts to combat Iran’s nuclear program and efforts to expand control across the region, and the challenge of foiling Palestinian terror.
“The IDF is responsible for everything happening in Judea and Samaria, and that’s how it needs to stay,” Kohavi told the Ynet news site, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.
“There cannot be two commanding authorities there,” said Kohavi, who steps down on Monday. “This is likely to cause damage and harm our readiness for war.”
“The work that the Border Police is doing in Judea and Samaria is excellent and I hope that the situation remains just as it is today. The chain of authority needs to be preserved,” he said, referring to plans to take away control of the force from the Israel Police and to place it under the direct control of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
Speaking to Channel 12, he added: “We cannot allow there to be two armies, with different procedures or different conceptions.”
If such a situation were to occur, he added, to prevent two separate chains of command the military might need to swap out Border Police forces with “soldiers from the standing army — who will consequently have less time for training — or with reservists, who already carry a heavy enough burden.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is said to have voiced similar sentiments, with Channel 12 reporting Gallant told army officers this week: “Nobody will get between me and the IDF chief, not even a millimeter. I’ll knock down anyone who tries.”
Responding to Ben Gvir’s frequent calls for security forces to have more lenient open-fire regulations, Kohavi was dismissive.
“People who think aggressive open-fire rules are the recipe for security are mistaken. It would produce the absolute opposite,” he said.
Currently, the major general in charge of COGAT is appointed by the defense minister at the recommendation of the IDF chief of staff, and the brigadier general overseeing the Civil Administration is appointed by the IDF chief of staff.
Smotrich reacted angrily to Kohavi’s criticism, accusing him of “populism” and laying the groundwork for a future in politics.
“If Kohavi wanted to understand and not just attack with populism in preparation for his entry into the political field, he could have talked to me and understood that the goal is not to harm the IDF’s chain of command but to remove the Civil Administration from the IDF and make it civilian,” Smotrich tweeted Friday.
“The IDF will deal with security and a civilian system will manage civilian life. Good for the citizens and good for the IDF,” he said.
“Kohavi is confused and forgot that Israel is a country that has an army and not an army that has a country. The responsibilities were transferred to me by law and I am convinced that his successor and the rest of the IDF commanders will act in accordance with the law,” Smotrich said.
Kohavi will have to face a three-year cooling-off period before he is allowed to enter politics as most of his predecessors have done.
Kohavi won support from former defense minister MK Benny Gantz, who said it was the professional duty of IDF commanders to sound the alarm, “even if it is unpleasant to hear for politicians.”
He also accused Smotrich of embarking on a “campaign to frighten and silence senior security officials,” which he warned would harm Israel’s security.
In his interviews, Kohavi also addressed criticism of his phone call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he laid out his opposition to the moves. Critics accused him of meddling in politics.
Kohavi held a phone call with Netanyahu earlier in January, reportedly telling him that the handing of IDF-related responsibilities to any minister other than the defense minister was an unacceptable breach of the IDF chain of command and that he was determined to ensure that the military does not allow it to happen.
In his interview, Kohavi also described another phone call with Netanyahu shortly before the new government took power.
“I thought it was correct when it was known who would be the next prime minister, and before agreements on issues that have significant and deep consequences on the role of the IDF and its values, that the prime minister and relevant people hear our opinion, my opinion, to present the consequences to them,” Kohavi told Channel 12.
“There’s nothing political about it. It’s what is expected from an IDF chief in a situation like this,” he said. “We presented our reasons and considerations and since there is a lot of reason and a strong base to them, I think they will take it seriously into account.”
Kohavi steps down as IDF chief on January 16 and will hand over the reins to Herzi Halevi.
In his interview with the Walla news site, Kohavi also addressed his clash with some right-wing politicians after the IDF’s disciplining of a soldier who taunted a left-wing activist in the West Bank city of Hebron in November.
“We acted in a clear way in order to define and protect our values,” he said, adding that a letter he published in response to the backlash “explained things clearly.”
“This is the role of the IDF commanders and myself as the army commander — to define the professional and moral compass, that’s the right thing to do and that’s how it will happen, I suppose, the next time it happens.”
Iran and Hezbollah
Beyond dealing with internal political issues, Kohavi said the military’s biggest challenge remained Iran and preventing it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Kohavi told Walla that a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was the “main task” faced by the army, and vowed that “the IDF would be ready to carry out its mission on the day of the order.”
In light of the growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the 2015 nuclear deal with Western powers, the past two years have seen the IDF ramp up efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites.
Israel has been pushing for the United States to prepare military contingency plans in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Biden has said he is prepared to use military force if necessary but still prefers to exhaust the diplomatic route first.
Asked what would happen if the US did not join Israel in such a strike, Kohavi said that “Israel must have the capability to perform this operation, also if it means we act alone.”
Kohavi told Ynet that he opposed the 2015 deal because it would have allowed the Iranians to possess unlimited amounts of enriched uranium at limited purity levels and run advanced centrifuges after 2031.
“The connection between these two things would have allowed them within weeks to be able to reach an amount of nuclear material that would be enough to assemble a bomb,” he claimed.
“If signed, a new agreement cannot have expiry dates. This time it will need to also include oversight on its weapons collection and ballistic missile development,” he added.
In the interviews, Kohavi said that the IDF was working to prevent the transfer of precision weapons to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, and promised that the IDF would be prepared for an escalation on the northern border.
“We have quite a few successes. They aren’t 100%. On the day of the war, we have ways to hit the few missiles Hezbollah managed to place or build,” he told the Walla news site.
Kohavi also warned of a powerful retaliation if Hezbollah decided to attack, in his interview with the Israel Hayom daily: “If they carry out a strike at a level of 3 on a scale from 1 to 10, we would respond with a level of 7-8. This is what we planned.”
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 on targets inside Syria in recent years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations. It has acknowledged, however, that it targets arms shipments and posts of Iran-allied groups, such as Lebanon’s terrorist Hezbollah.
“Iran’s vision in Syria was completely disrupted. There was supposed to be an array of hundreds of thousands of ground and air missiles, alongside tens of thousands of militias parallel to Hezbollah in a new format in the Syrian Golan,” he told the Maariv daily, adding that the military also disrupted efforts to smuggle weapons from Iran into Syria.
Preventing terror in the West Bank and Gaza
In the interviews, the outgoing military chief discussed the ongoing operation which aims to fight terrorist elements in the West bank following a series of Palestinian attacks that killed 31 people in 2022.
The IDF’s operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids. It also left more than 170 Palestinians dead in 2022, and another nine since the beginning of the year, many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.
“We prevented around 400 terror attacks, and those we didn’t, we are investigating,” he told Ynet.
“In contrast to the past, there are no terror groups behind these attacks, instead they are lone-wolf terrorists. It comes from a deep frustration of Palestinian Authority citizens, because of their economic situation, and some of them find a way to vent through terrorist attacks,” he explained.
Kohavi outlined a three-pronged approach to boosting security, including “strengthening the West Bank security barrier and forces along the seam zone area, internal activities along roads and settlements, and the most important — deep offensive operations, round the clock, based on excellent intelligence from the Shin Bet, Military Intelligence, and penetration into the deepest places with the uprooting of the terrorists from them.”
In regards to the southern front, Kohavi hailed the IDF’s operations against terrorist infrastructure, in particular Hamas’s tunnel system during Operation Guardian of the Walls in 2021.
“There is a potential for the [current quiet] reality created in the Gaza Strip to last a long time, but this depends on what happens on other fronts, at the Temple Mount, in Judea and Samaria,” he told the Maariv daily.
At the same time, Kohavi warns of a new Lebanon war that would set the Levant state back 50 years, especially since the Jerusalem Post has just reported a third wave of exodus from the collapsing failed state Lebanon. There is also the question of whether the new radical right-wing government is staging a new Middle East war in order to eliminate democracy altogether by means of martial law, channeling domestic conflicts by means of rallies around the flag and thus dissolving the structural ungovernability in Israel. Conversely, Hezbollah and Iran could also have an interest in a conflict with Israel, since the domestic political situation in Lebanon and Iran is eroding, especially under the mass protests in Iran, which are currently threatening the Mullah regime.
“IDF chief Kohavi to ‚Post‘: New war would set Lebanon back 50 years
Aviv Kohavi wraps up his term and tells the ‘Magazine’ about plans for war with Hezbollah, attacks on Iran, and concern over new legislation.
In March, Israel will mark a decade to what the IDF calls the “Mabam” – a Hebrew acronym for the war-between-wars, otherwise known as the covert shadow campaign that the country wages fiercely against Iran and its regional proxies.
Back in 2013, when the Mabam first started, there was a total of three attacks the entire year. In 2014, the number increased to about eight. Nothing, though, has been like the past year during which the IDF has an Iranian target somewhere in the Middle East, on an average of at least once a week.
These are attacks that take place in Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and beyond. Some we hear about; many we don’t. Some are seamless and go by without a single enemy shot fired; some see Israel Air Force fighter pilots coming under intense enemy missile fire.
What it means is that although the public might not feel it, the IDF is constantly operating, seeing action, and preparing for war.
The man who has overseen this rapid pace of operations is Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the IDF chief of staff who will hang up his uniform on Monday after more than 40 years of service. One success he takes pride in is denying Iran the ability to establish a “Hezbollah II” in Syria.
The last four years have been intense. In addition to the significant increase in Mabam operations, Kohavi has overseen four operations against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip; he forged a unique alliance with the US military; he traveled the Middle East; he initiated a revolutionary digital transformation throughout the military; he prepared the IDF for war with Hezbollah; and he also upgraded operational plans and training for what could one day be Israel’s most complex mission in its 75-year history: an attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In an extensive interview with The Jerusalem Post from his spacious office at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Kohavi spoke openly about his concerns about the new government’s plans to change the way the Civil Administration operates in the West Bank. He spoke about his phone call a few weeks ago with Benjamin Netanyahu before the government was formed and how it was “his duty” to voice this concern.
While there is concern domestically, he brushed away the possibility that the new government’s reforms will undermine the strategic military-security relationship the IDF has forged with the US military. He praised Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, saying that his affinity and support of Israel is “powerful and inspiring.”
Turning to Israel’s different fronts, Kohavi warned that if a new war broke out with Hezbollah, Israel would send Lebanon 50 years back in time through what he called “waves of firepower” that Israel would unleash on the Iranian-backed militia group, as well as against Lebanese national infrastructure.
“Hezbollah and [Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah know that Lebanon will be hit in an unprecedented way, which it has never experienced in its history,” Kohavi said. “A third Lebanon war will see a powerful attack that they have never experienced. They know this.”
“Hezbollah and [Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah know that Lebanon will be hit in an unprecedented way, which it has never experienced in its history. A third Lebanon war will see a powerful attack that they have never experienced. They know this.”
When it comes to Iran, Kohavi is just as confident in the IDF’s capabilities to deal Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s nuclear program a devastating blow.
“We will be ready at any point that the political echelon tells us to, whether it is in the coming months, or in another year, or if it is in another three years,” he said.
The following Q&A with Kohavi was edited for length and clarity.
You spoke to Netanyahu recently by phone. Putting aside what was said, why bother making the call when you have just a few weeks left? It’s your successor’s problem.
In principle, I think that issues like this, and certainly security issues, need to be dealt with behind closed doors. The publicity on this did not come from us. The intention of the call was to point to the fact that there might be decisions taken that could undermine the IDF’s operational capabilities or the IDF’s values. I asked and insisted on the opportunity to voice all the reasons and consequences of the decisions before they are made, since as we know, there are differences between what is written in the coalition agreements and what happens in reality.
It is my duty to do this. I am the chief of staff until the final second of my term. Since these are the days that they are going to make the decisions and I am the chief of staff, there is no question that it is my duty.
I was happy that the prime minister said that we will discuss and work out the issues.
How concerned are you?
It is not a question of concern. I am a professional and we, in the IDF, have two compasses – the professional compass that we use to set our doctrine and rules, as well as the ethical compass.
There are two different issues here. On the professional and regulation side, for example, there is the matter concerning the Civil Administration. Since Judea and Samaria are under IDF rule, then by definition, I am in charge of law and order to prevent terrorism and establish security. If we are responsible, then we need the tools to act; and that is why it was decided a long time ago that the Civil Administration is under the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, and there is a connection between military operations and the civil activities and vice versa.
Let’s say that tomorrow there is a decision to pave a new road for residents. This has security implications. Let’s now say that tomorrow I will want to pave a road for security reasons. This will have implications for residents and this might mean, for example, that on this new road, a community will now be exposed to terrorist activity.
Therefore, there was logic when those before us decided that the Civil Administration – which is essentially a small government in Judea and Samaria – will have a civil dimension and a military dimension, and I need to reflect this to the prime minister, the defense minister, and the political echelon so they understand the implications of their decisions. In the end, it is their right to decide, but it is my obligation to point to the situation and reflect to them what could happen.
Let’s connect this to the relationship you’ve forged with the Americans. You have very close ties with [General Mark] Milley and recently received the Legion of Merit from him. The relations have apparently never been closer. Are you concerned this could change because of the political situation?
My experience in relations with different countries did not start with my appointment as chief of staff but 15 years earlier since I was head of the IDF Operations Division. I can say that the relations – certainly with the US – are stronger than political moves.
The relations have only grown. They are not an example of cooperation but of a true partnership. Because the relations are so strong, I am not at all worried. What we get from them and what they get from us is based on [common] interests but also on solidarity, and it is deep and tight and stronger than any relationship between governments.
People tend to think that Israel is the recipient of benefits from the US – fighter jets, weapons and military aid. Can you tell us what we give them?
We give them a lot on the political-diplomatic level, but it is not my job to talk about that. From the military perspective, we give them a lot of intelligence. Secondly – and I cannot give too much detail about this – we cooperate and give them a lot of advantages when it comes to operational methods, fighting methods and weapons systems.
You were chief of staff when there was tension between Israel and the US surrounding Iran. There was one government that decided to fight publicly with the US, and there was another government that wanted it to be behind the scenes. What do you think now that you have seen both play out?
It is not for a chief of staff to recommend to the government how to manage this. I can tell you that we, in the IDF, maintain a close dialogue with our US colleagues behind closed doors that is substantive. We clarify issues, and in a number of cases we have been able to portray the updated and right reality to the Americans and even convinced them that our position was right.
Can you give an example?
When we [Milley and Kohavi] sit for hours, the one-on-one meetings have a lot of impact. You can bring the person in front of you into your shoes to see things the way you do. If you use facts and strong arguments, rationale, the people and people who care about the State of Israel [can be convinced].
You have no idea what type of strong affinity Milley, CENTCOM chief [Gen. Michael] Kurilla and [Gen. Kenneth] McKenzie before him, have to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. It is powerful and inspiring. So they also are convinced. I can tell you that behind the 1,000 Iron Dome interceptors were the ties we have with the US military and with Milley. The decision not to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the US terror list was also because of our relationship with the US military.
Did you share intelligence on this with them?
Yes, and we also worked out what the significance would be if the decision was made. The significance of the Quds Force was discussed between me and Milley in private. I know that he personally influenced President Biden.
Let’s talk about the Mabam. You mentioned that there is, on average, an Israeli attack against Iran once a week somewhere in the Middle East and how they have not succeeded in creating the force in Syria that they wanted.
We started 10 years ago in 2013, and there were three attacks the whole year. Our average today is more than one a week, and we crossed 52 operations in 2022.
They still try because like in every battle – strategic or tactical – just because one side succeeds does not mean that the other side withdraws completely.
Iran still has a desire – even if they don’t actualize the entire vision of [former Quds Force commander] Qasem Soleimani, which in this sense has failed – to put weapons and advanced capabilities in Syria. Although we undermined a large portion of the plan, it doesn’t mean they have stopped trying.
We have not finished, and I don’t think [the Mabam] will finish in the next year or two. There will be more attempts, but there is no doubt that we have prevented what was supposed to be there. They wanted hundreds of surface-to-air missiles and surface-to-surface missiles. They wanted tens of thousands of militiamen and a second Hezbollah. All of this was thwarted completely.
The IDF put out a report that it succeeded in stopping 70% of the weaponry from flowing into Syria. This means 30% made it in. If it is precision munitions, then that means they can strike strategic targets in Israel.
Firstly, the 70% is now more than 90%. This is a fact. We have gotten better, but you are right that some percentage manages to get in, and that is a challenge. Some of our action is to block the crossings – by air, ground or sea – and some is to hunt what gets in. Just look at the media reports and understand where we operate.
BORN IN 1964, Kohavi enlisted in the Paratroopers Brigade in 1982, and then spent the next 25 years in the field.
The year 2002 was a turning point. Suicide bombings were a weekly occurrence in Israel. The attacks would prompt then-prime minister Ariel Sharon to authorize the IDF to launch Operation Defensive Shield and take firmer control of the West Bank.
Kohavi received one of the hardest targets – the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. The largest refugee camp in the West Bank, Balata was then home to around 25,000 people in just a quarter of a square kilometer.
Before the operation, the Palestinians had used the time to get ready. Hundreds of gunmen had set up positions in the camp, digging trenches and booby-trapping front doors and narrow passageways. The Palestinian gunmen defiantly dared Israel to send troops inside. Kohavi knew that if not done right, he could be marching his men into a disaster.
But Kohavi was determined. He knew that this would be the test for the IDF. “The Palestinians have prepared the stage for a show that they want to direct,” Kohavi told his officers before the incursion. “They expect us to follow their orders. That is exactly what we won’t do.”
On the eve of the operation, Kohavi sent his battalions to surround the camp. One took up positions to the northeast; another to the southeast. He wanted the Palestinians to think that he was going to order his men straight into the death traps they had set for them.
But then something else happened. The soldiers entered the homes and buildings on the outskirts and started crossing from one structure to the next. They hammered through walls or blew holes with small explosive charges. They were literally walking through the walls.
This protected the soldiers but also had another result – it forced the gunmen out to the streets where the soldiers – now covered inside homes – could engage them from a point of cover. The operation took four days. While Kohavi lost a soldier, some 20 gunmen were killed, and dozens of others were arrested.
The innovative tactic got the attention of the IDF’s top brass, and Kohavi continued to climb the ranks, serving as head of the Gaza Division, head of the Operations Division, head of Military Intelligence, and then the Northern Command before taking up the top military role.
Kohavi told his men over the years that being polite does not create strength. Israel’s enemies, he explained, understand one language – that of force and lethality. So when he became chief of staff in 2019, he vowed to make the IDF more “lethal and efficient.” Three months after he took the reins, he began a revolution, starting with improving the IDF’s ability to identify and destroy the enemy with multi-dimensional blows.
He established new units, including Ghost – a combat force that integrates cutting-edge technology, soldiers from multiple units, as well as an AI-powered target-creator in Military Intelligence. It churns out new targets weekly across Israel’s various fronts. In the past, the Operations Division was able to create 15 targets a week; today, it can create 50 to 100.
It was only natural that under his watch, precision would also become one of the military’s top priorities.
The common denominators of the operations you oversaw in the Gaza Strip, as well as the Mabam, are precision and very little collateral damage. No other military has this level of accuracy. Explain how this happens.
There were four operations in Gaza. In Operation Black Belt , there were hours of discussions on how to take out [Islamic Jihad commander] Baha Abu al-Ata in his apartment without hurting his sleeping children. And that is what happened.
There were discussions about where he sleeps, on what side, what angle the bomb goes in, and how to calculate the detonation for the right moment in the right place.
This process was designed by the IDF over years, not just during my tenure. But we improved and upgraded the intelligence capabilities, since precision starts with intelligence. We could have concluded that Abu al-Ata was in his daughter’s room, or we could have said that we do not know what room he is in, so we will take out the entire floor.
Next, we upgraded the ability to manufacture and produce targets. The fact that we attacked 200 Islamic Jihad targets in 55 hours in Operation Breaking Dawn [August 2022], just a year and a half after we hit Islamic Jihad targets in Operation Black Belt, shows this capability. This is largely thanks to the new target administration that works with AI. We also are in the process of a digital transformation so that everyone sees the same picture of intelligence – in the war room, the drone and the fighter jet.
I remember years when the same target appeared in one place for one, and another place for the other.
Altogether, myriad capabilities have helped increase the pace of creating targets and the ability to target them with precision.
Former prime minister Naftali Bennett said that laser defense will be ready soon. On the other hand, defense establishment officials say it will take much longer and if Hezbollah wants to destroy Metulla and other places, they can. Missile defense can help, but it is only Hezbollah knowing that we can destroy them that will prevent them from attacking.
As always with complex challenges, the response is also complex. Regarding Hezbollah: The scope of targets that we have today – as a result of major changes that we did in intelligence – is unprecedented. It ranges from the southern border with Lebanon up to Beirut, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Bekaa Valley in the east. Lebanon is blanketed with thousands and thousands of targets.
We significantly improved our operational plans, and there are waves of firepower that will strike all of these targets and will cause large and unprecedented damage to Lebanon, including to national infrastructure which supports terror, such as electrical power stations and other infrastructure.
Hezbollah knows this. Nasrallah knows this, and this is our first and most substantial solution: a strong offensive capability. What has been the greatest improvement of the IDF in recent years? It is a clear increase in our offensive capabilities.
We are also upgrading our defensive capabilities – from a full spectrum of national air defense to a notable increase in interceptors in deals that we have already closed to cover our needs for years to come, and the laser defense system.
The laser defense system is truly great news. It will be both land- and air-based. I do want to be cautious regarding time frames. In another two years, we expect to deploy systems along the Gaza Strip border to test this tool’s effectiveness.
It has worked very well in field tests. If this experiment works, and we continue to integrate and enhance the laser defense system over two years, we will move as fast as possible to deploy it across the entire North. I cannot commit to a specific number of years. I don’t want to be optimistic, and I also don’t want to be pessimistic.
I know that there has been great progress over the last three years, and we invested a lot of money in this. We defined the laser defense system as having multiple benefits that we would need to invest a lot in. I am happy that it has progressed so much.
You mentioned waves of firepower. If the IDF launches an attack against the Iranian nuclear program, would it also attack Lebanon simultaneously?
There is no way to know for certain if an attack against Iran will lead Hezbollah to join the fight. It really depends on what the situation is in Lebanon, which is in a state of deterioration. It will depend on what Hezbollah’s situation will be at the time. It is not certain that a decision by Hezbollah to join is a foregone conclusion. I want to repeat: Hezbollah and Nasrallah know that Lebanon will be hit in an unprecedented way, which it has never experienced in its history. A third Lebanon war will see a powerful attack that they have never experienced. They know this.
Hezbollah also sees examples of our capabilities to carry out attacks in the North by virtue of the Mabam, or in Gaza during operations like Breaking Dawn and Guardian of the Walls.
They understand that a new war will be multiple times larger. It is true that they have many rockets and missiles, but ours are accurate as opposed to their weapons, which mostly are not. Therefore, it is not certain that Hezbollah would automatically join, or that even after consideration it would join.
Step into Nasrallah’s shoes. He understands that because of the nuclear program in Iran, Lebanon could be sent backward 50 years. That is the calculation he needs to make in terms of the immensity of the blow that [Lebanon] will experience because of our attacks.
Israel used to say that it will not let Iran cross certain levels of nuclear enrichment, but they have crossed them. We said we would not let them throw out inspectors, but they did. IDF Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva said recently that Iran might pass the weaponized 90% level soon. What changed in Israel’s red lines on Iran?
First of all, I don’t know what it means “we said.” We never made a red line.
Netanyahu did, at the UN.
No, he did not draw a red line in the sense that if they cross this specific line, then we commit to attacking.
Second, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA – the 2015 Iran nuclear deal] was signed with Iran when it already had enough nuclear material for seven potential nuclear bombs: six bombs from low-level enriched uranium and another one from 20% enriched uranium.
The situation today [is focused on] four potential bombs, even less. It is true that one of them is based on 60% enriched uranium; the distance between 60% and 20% is only a few weeks, so it does not really matter. What is important is not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear bomb, but also not to get to the point where it can rapidly break out into a nuclear bomb within weeks.
That was, in my view, the biggest problem with the JCPOA. I thought it was a bad deal at the time, and I did not hide my view. Our responsibility in the IDF is to be ready to strike a substantial blow against the nuclear facilities and also against second-level military targets, and to be ready for a broader conflict with Iran.
This is what we did in recent years. One, we upgraded our intelligence to greatly increase the number of targets. Second, we increased the number of munitions and systems needed to attack Iran, with the process now at a peak. Third, we built operational plans. Fourth, and most important, we are training for this. We finished two drills. One was during the IDF’s War Month, and the second was at the end of November. We are about to hold a third very large exercise.
In under a year, we are going to have carried out three training exercises with dozens of aircraft, refueling aircraft and all of the operative units. In addition, we also established an Iran Department in the IDF, led by a major general. All of this speaks for itself regarding the level of preparation that we are achieving.
A top intelligence official told us recently that there is actually no Israeli intention to attack Iran because the estimate is that Biden will go back to the JCPOA, and then it won’t be necessary to attack.
We are preparing the plans. These exercises cost a lot of money; the munitions cost a lot of money, and all of this is in order to prepare the IDF for the day the order will be given to attack. We are preparing this option. If the political echelon decides, they will have this tool available. And we will be ready at that moment.
What is that point when an attack will need to happen? The point not to allow them to get to a nuclear weapon and not to let them be at a rapid breakout to a bomb?
There is no clear point or line because the capability to assemble a nuclear bomb is made up of many components.
It is made up of the amount of enriched uranium and what level of enrichment it is at; it is composed of the number of centrifuges. It is composed of what stage they have advanced in the weapons group; it is also composed of ballistic missile development and how they deliver the weapon.
I am not saying that I am judging the situation only on the basis of this component or this specific pillar. I am happy to say that a number of the components that I mentioned have not advanced to a significant point. There is progress on multiple fronts, but they are not in a mad dash, since they understand that it is dangerous.
Therefore, we are constantly carrying out reviews and always double-checking. But in the end, this is a decision for the political echelon. But there is no set point where you say: I know is when to attack.
Do you know when the attack option will be ready – in one more year? In another six months?
We will be ready at any point that the political echelon tells us, whether it is in the coming months, or in another year, or if it is in another three years.
Last question. We both served and believe that it is a privilege to serve in the IDF. Maybe it is time, though, to admit that the IDF is no longer an army of the entire people but an army of half the people.
This is the army of the people, and it needs to remain an army of the people. There are huge advantages to the State of Israel by having an army of the people, as well as to the soldiers themselves.
First, if you set aside the Arab and haredi sectors, 85% of the nation serves in the IDF. Second, of the four out of 10 top socioeconomic groups in the country, those with the best draft scores serve in the IDF in higher percentages, often in combat roles.
These are the facts, representing an army of the people. Men and women serve in the IDF – that is an army of the people. The officers’ training course has a waiting list from here until next season, with soldiers motivated to serve in combat roles. Not only is the motivation steady to serve in the IDF and specifically in combat units, but for some roles – the infantry – it even went up.
Second, for a state that is surrounded by six fronts, with such a high level of complexity, in order to have the best possible army you need high-quality people. Therefore, under no circumstances can we abandon the idea of a people’s army or be in a situation without a draft law. With the draft law in place, you get the best soldiers, who aspire to become the best commanders, who become the best base commanders, who become the best battalion commanders or the best head of intelligence.
What the soldiers and commanders get in the IDF they cannot get in any other place. They learn discipline; they learn dedication to completing the mission; they learn how to work together as part of a team and interpersonal relations; they learn how to adapt; they learn how to work under pressure; they learn how to make decisions under pressure.
Most importantly, they get free internships of one, two or six years in command, leadership and management roles. Where else does this exist in the world? Where in the world are 19-year-olds, 20, and 21-year-olds learning from a command experience? This benefit, for someone who goes back to civilian society, is vast and injects amazing energy.<
Well, the only democracy in the Middle East Israel is now apparently eliminated by Bibi Orban Netanyahu also by means of the storm inside Capitol Knesset on the Supreme Court. Also the last remaining Arab glimmer of hope of a democracy in the Middle East after Bush Jr. democratization war in Iraq, which should radiate as a beacon for the Greater Middle East and after the Arab Spring failed everywhere, Tunisia will follow probably soon. IDF Chief of General Staff Kohavi was considered the most important foreign and security policy link to the U.S., especially since future relations with the new right- wing Israeli government seem to become quite rumpy. Secretly, Bibi may be hoping for a re-election of Trump, who doesn’t care about democracy, the Religious Right, 80 million fundamentalist US- Evangelicals and the US Republicans. But Biden may soon have one less member in his „Alliance of Democracies. German politicians and Baerbock are quiet about the events in Israel. In any case, there are mass protests of the democratic Israelis and perhaps not all days are over for the only democracy in the Middle East, insofar as further new elections are not prevented by elimination of democracy.