In the Jewish State everything is personal. Practical considerations always come in second and third place.
Therefore, there are those who are overjoyed at the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi to chief of staff, viewing it as a correction of a historic injustice done to him. Others, and particularly senior officers, mumble that bringing him back into the army constitutes an unjustified expression of mistrust in top general staff officials.
Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky's supporters argue that Ashkenazi was awarded the post only because Defense Minister Peretz took advantage of the authority he has by law in order to politically degrade Prime Minister Olmert.
All the claims are correct to a significant extent, but they are irrelevant. One thing is really important: Major General (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi's suitability to the post of IDF army chief under the current circumstances.
And the emphasis here is on "current circumstances," where the State of Israel has to restore its power of deterrence, which was undermined as a result of the second Lebanon War; the sense of security that was undermined in the wake of the loss of public faith in the IDF's abilities must be regained; and that the IDF's top and mid-range command echelons must regain faith in themselves.
In such state of affairs, Ashkenazi holds a clear advantage over the other candidates not only because he was not directly involved in the flawed management of the fighting in Lebanon, but rather, because he already proved that he can plan and command large-scale combat. This is something no other candidate can boast. Another advantage: He already proved that he knows how to restrain himself in the face of frustration and act cooly in any situation.
Ashkenazi displayed those qualities as the northern command chief in 2000. At the time he thought, and even said so to Prime Minister Barak, that declaring a date for a unilateral withdrawal from the South Lebanon Security Zone was a mistake. He even predicted the South Lebanon Army's collapse before the planned date.
However, when his doubts were rejected by the politicians, he led the northern command and other IDF branches into an intensive, detailed, and rapid process of planning and preparation for withdrawal completed months before the target date.
Ashkenazi also made the utmost efforts in a bid to prevent the South Lebanon Army's early collapse and while doing so displayed significant emotional intelligence. Yet once the SLA did collapse and the withdrawal battle had to be managed under difficult circumstances and under fire, the command units in the Security Zone were well prepared and under Ashkenazi's cool guidance departed from Lebanon without sustaining any losses.
Following the Lebanon withdrawal, Ashkenazi was able to redeploy on the border, exactly in accordance with the instructions handed down by Army Chief Mofaz and Prime Minister Barak.
The only stain that tainted his tenure as the northern command chief was the failure that allowed Hizbullah to kidnap three IDF soldiers in the Mount Dov area several months after the withdrawal. However, a commission of inquiry headed by Major General (Res.) Yossi Peled cleared him of direct responsibility for this failure.
Notably, at the time these events were taking place, Ashkenazi maintained his silence. He concentrated on doing and allowed others to talk – even though he had much criticism and disagreed with Barak's decisions and his strategic perceptions.
Even when Sharon decided to pick Dan Halutz over him as chief of staff, Ashkenazi did not publicly express his frustration and also did not head into the private sector. The military and Israel's security were always, and remained, his first love. The patience and perseverance he showed paid off.
Now comes the test. The first mission, in order of priority, faced by Ashkenazi is to restore the IDF's, and particularly the ground forces', ability to function effectively in any combat type or scenario. To that end, he will have to annul some of the organizational changes introduced by Halutz.
Ashkenazi will have to ensure the general staff is given back the functions that would allow it to directly-manage combat and to again institutionalize a clear and hierarchical chain of command that enables the chief of staff and deputy army chief to decide, every day, the strategic and tactical combat objectives and earmark resources and forces, while command chiefs and regiment commanders execute the plans.
Ashkenazi will likely also have to make some personnel changes in the general staff in a manner that would improve the overall functioning of the intelligence, logistics, and Navy arms in their role of supporting the ground and air forces.
The second mission in order of priority is the implementation of the work plan prepared by the general staff under the direction of Halutz and Kaplinsky based on the Lebanon War's lessons.
This 2007 work plan is a masterpiece considering the budgetary limitations. If it is implemented properly, it would restore the regular and reserve ground forces' basic combat capabilities under scenarios that have been neglected, while also reviving some forgotten combat values.
The third mission is to prepare the IDF to cope with the Iranian nuclear threat and with a guerilla strategy that makes use of rockets and sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
The fourth mission is to convince Israeli politicians, media, and society to allow the IDF to quietly work on fixing itself. Ashkenazi must make it clear to Israeli society that the sensitivity it shows to military casualties leads to mistakes on the battlefield that exact a heavy human toll.
He must make clear to the parents of soldiers, reserve soldiers' groups, and bereaved families that their deep involvement in what goes on in the military and the pressures they exert on commanders damage their sons and friends more than they benefit them.
All of the above constitutes an immense mission. If Ashkenazi delivers, only then would we be able to confidently say that the failure to appoint him as chief of staff about a year and a half ago was a historic injustice done to him, and also to us.