The Israel Defense Forces' 20th Chief of Staff Benny Gantz on Monday received the rank of lieutenant-general from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak during a special ceremony at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem.
The new chief of staff said in his speech, "I, the son of the Jewish people's chain of generations, am being appointed the supreme commander of the IDF's soldiers. Leaning on my vast experience and my faith in my operational abilities, I assume the command of the IDF."
He thanked outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. "In your own way and with great success, you advanced the building of the IDF's strength in the face of the future's challenges and commanded the IDF with determination in the face of massive and challenging operational challenges, both open and secret.
"You are handing me and the IDF commanders a strong, determined, disciplined, professional and alert army for continued development and nurturing."
He thanked the prime minister and defense minister for "their faith in me" and said it was his privilege to assume "this important mission of commanding the IDF. This is an exciting day for me. This is an exciting day for the IDF and the State of Israel."
Netanyahu, Gantz and Barak (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Addressing the failed appointment of Yoav Galant as the IDF chief, Gantz said: "I would like to thank Major-General Yoav Galant for his long and dedicated service in the IDF and for the State of Israel. Yoav and I have spoken and I believe we will be able to work together for the future as much as it takes."
Gantz concluded by saying, "More than anything, I am accompanied today by the memory of all of the IDF's fallen soldiers. My friends who fell and their family members, (kidnapped soldier) Gilad Shalit and all the missing soldiers, whose return we seek."
Ashkenazi fails to mention Barak
The first to speak at the ceremony was outgoing Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, who thanked everyone except Defense Minister Barak.
"My work was inspired by the statements of the late (Prime Minister) Yitzhak Rabin, who said that a state cannot be built though headlines and TV appearances. A state is built through small, daily acts," he said.
"We didn't build the IDF, but we tried to rebuild the trust of the compulsory and reserve soldiers in the system, their pride and feeling of capability, and as important – the people of Israel's faith in their army. We established the power of deterrence and the training routine, the firing ability and the equipment storerooms."
Addressing the army's activity in the past four years, Ashkenazi said: "Together we all took part in a war which changed its look, a war which turns the home front into the front and the residents into fighters. Together we conducted a persistent war against all the messengers and senders of the axis of evil, which sought to smear the IDF.
"I believe that in the complex battlefields we have fought in the heart of the Mediterranean and the crowded communities of the Gaza Strip on the northern border, in Judea and Samaria – we presented the firmest response to all of our enemies, and thanks to the determination and dedication characterizing the IDF and its fighters we began restoring our residents' security and restoring calm in their homes."
The outgoing army chief concluded by wishing his replacement success: "Benny, I have no doubt that your unique calm and abilities will help you recruit the IDF's soldiers and firmly and safely navigate our vessel of security to a haven of rest. We all believe in you. Good luck."
PM: You have all the skills to succeed
Prime Minister Netanyahu wished Gantz success. "Benny, today you are receiving the wand of command. You have all the skills to succeed in this important mission. You are well familiar with the IDF, and the IDF is familiar with you."
He mentioned the recent developments in Muslim countries. "An earthquake is rocking the Arab and Muslim world, and we still don't know how things will end," the prime minister said.
"Those who wish to destroy us are still here, and so are we. We are strong because the IDF is strong. There is no one who understands this context better than you, Benny."
Netanyahu noted that Gantz's mother weighed 28 kilos (62 pounds) when she was released from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. "I am convinced that she never dreamed that 66 years later, her son would be 20th chief of staff of the State of Israel's, the Jewish state. Perhaps she never dreamed of it, but this dream is being realized before our eyes today."
Defense Minister Barak thanked Ashkenazi in his speech. "I would like to thank you for four decades of service and especially for the past four years, which strengthened the IDF, boosted its preparedness and projected its deterrence, and to wish you good luck."
He turned to the new chief of staff and said, "I would like to hope that you, Benny, will know how to move the IDF forward in the face of the new challenges. Our surroundings are changing very fast, things don't remain stagnated and we are in the middle of a difficult period, both in the face of the outside challenges and in the face of what we have gone through inside."
Gantz and Ashkenazi salute each other (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Gantz was accompanied to the ceremony by family members and friends. Revital Gantz wished her husband success. "We are with him and support him. I hope he will be an army chief of peace, and if he has to use forces – I hope he will do it wisely and with discretion."
As he left his home in the central city of Rosh Haayin on Monday morning, Gantz said that "the smiles end today and the hard work begins this afternoon, and we'll do it."
Media crews, several residents and representatives of Rosh Haayin's youth movements gathered outside the Gantz home to congratulate him.
Gantz told the crowd, "Today is an exciting day for me, a day which is personally important to me and to my entire family, as well as to the people of Israel. I believe I will do my job in the best way possible."
He turned to the youth movements' representatives and told them, "I'm very proud to be a resident of this city. It's definitely a very nice experience for me and my family to receive these greetings as we leave our house on our way to Jerusalem."
New army chief with his wife (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
Outgoing Chief of Staff Ashkenazi congratulated his replacement upon arriving at the Prime Minister's Office: "I wish him a lot of successes. This is a huge responsibility. I salute those who are not here, the soldiers and commanders on the ground, who are the real heroes of this army.
"There is a lot of excitement today. I remember the day I took over from Dan Halutz, and today I am handing the responsibility over to Benny – I had the privilege of being his commander.
Addressing the failed appointment of Major-General Galant as the chief of staff, Ashkenazi said: "I really regret what happened. Yoav didn't deserve it. Unfortunately, I had no control over the circumstances."
As the outgoing army chief left his home in Kfar Saba on Monday morning, drivers passing by expressed their appreciation by blowing their cars' horns.
IDF generals and senior political and defense establishment officials bid farewell to the outgoing army chief on Sunday evening at Tel Aviv University. One of the officers who attended the event said that "there is a true feeling that we are embarking on a new road. We have undergone a difficult period, and it's time to focus on the important thing – getting the IDF ready for the missions ahead."
After receiving his new rank, Gantz was visited the Western Wall with Ashkenazi and the two said a joint prayer. Citizens present at the holy site wished the new army chief success in his new role.
The two then traveled to the Kirya Base in Tel Aviv, where the traditional ceremony was held. At first the new army chief reviewed the honor guard and then proposed a toast with the defense minister.
Ashkenazi told Gantz during the ceremony, "Nothing prepares you for this great responsibility." He mentioned the Qassam rocket which hit the western Negev earlier, pulled out a book and said, "I am handing you the book of Gaza targets."
The outgoing army chief did not ignore Defense Minister Barak this time. "I would also like to thank the defense minister," he said. "You sat in this room more than all of us. I think the events taking place around us add a component of uncertainty. The IDF is aware of the huge responsibility."
Gantz thanked Ashkenazi again. "I think I know what I'm getting into. From what I have been hearing, I think I am also feeling where I'm getting into. I am doing it willingly, seriously, with an understanding of how to work."
The outgoing IDF chief then reviewed the officers and honor guard on his way out of the base.
On Thursday, Gantz is expected to hold a first evaluation of the situation and different discussions on the IDF's future plans.
Hanan Greenberg, Attila Somfalvi, Boaz Fyler and Roi Kais contributed to this report
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