Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi

Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi took the helm as Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff on Tuesday morning.

His appointment heralded a new era as Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot stepped down from his post after four years, bringing an end to 40 years service for his country.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also Defence Minister, passed the baton of rank of lieutenant general to Kockavi at a ceremony at Kirya IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“‘I swear’, this is what I called out alongside my fellow soldiers in front of the Western Wall, which was for us a wall of support and protection,” said Kochavi.

“It has been 2,000 years, and this wall of protection has expanded and become the Israel Defence Force. I swore in front of generations of soldiers and became another link in the chain of generations that come each in turn to defend the State.

“‘I swear,’ every soldier calls out, and packs into these two words the relinquishing of the private for the national. The national home is a wonderful creation like no other in the history of nations, but it is planted in a region that for religious and national reasons is trying to reject its natural roots.

“To defend our national home, we need a sobered outlook, a fit military force, the willingness to use that force, discretion and determination.”

Addressing Eisenkot, Kochavi said, “The IDF under your leadership has repeatedly proven its abilities as the defender of the borders and the interior, using its long arm to destroy any threats.

“During your tenure, the IDF bolstered its units and increased its preparedness. I stand at the head of the military and on behalf of all of its soldiers and commanders, I thank and salute you.”

Kochavi concluded by turning back the clock to the beginning of his IDF service.

“Like every soldier in his swear-in ceremony, I vowed at the time to dedicate all of my efforts to defending the homeland. Now, as head of the General Staff, while I have national security and the good of the state before me, I make a new vow. There is much work to be done, good luck to us all.”

Eisenkot noted, “At the end of 40 years of service and four years as the IDF chief, I conclude a path that became my life’s mission. I sought to leave behind a fit, prepared and powerful military that bolstered its strength with wisdom and determination.”

Addressing the new Chief of Staff, Eisenkot told Kochavi he was a worthy commander and was passing on the most precious asset of our nation, the Israel Defense Forces.

He added, “The military I give to you today is advanced and remains true to its roots and spirit. “Over the many years in which we worked together in the field and in the General Staff, it has been my privilege to get to know you as a commander with immense fortitude and leadership and command abilities. Your determination and extensive experience will be dedicated in full to bolstering the IDF’s preparedness and strength, maintaining its character and values, and nurturing the pride in the heart of its soldiers.”

Netanyahu, as he had done the preceding days, once again thanked Eisenkot for 40 years of service.

He said, “Over the past four years, we have dealt with great challenges, the changing fronts in Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and other places. But there has also been one main element facing us, Iran and its terror proxies. We acted responsibly and with discretion to stop those who seek to harm us from growing stronger.

“All of the actions we’ve taken in recent years to build up the IDF’s power were meant to bolster the military’s readiness and achieve one goal, victory in war. And the stronger we are, the more we increase the chances of peace.”

Netanyahu added, “Thanks to our intelligence, operational and technological capabilities, our ties with the Arab world are growing stronger than ever before. Leading Muslim nations are getting closer to us. They realise we’re not their enemy, but a vital ally to lean on. By growing our military, our economy and our diplomacy, we have turned Israel into a rising world power.”

Turning his attention to the new Chief of Staff, he added, “You have a red beret on your shoulder, which symbolises the special spirit of the Paratroopers, the steadfastness, the order ‘after me,’ and constantly striving for excellence.

“As an experienced military leader, you will now carry the grave responsibility of ensuring that the IDF fulfils its missions.

“The objective is clear, to ensure our superiority over our enemies and to increase the qualitative edge we have over them. First, we’ll work to bolster our offensive capabilities even more. We will ensure we have a crushing fist to attack our enemies with, both close and far.”

Netanyahu concluded, “If we are prepared to defend our country with all of our might, we might not have to fight an all-out war. And if we do, the IDF will handle this challenge, as will the citizens of Israel who will be united, and together we will ensure Israel’s eternal existence.”

Kochavi and Eisenkot went on to visit the National Hall of Remembrance on Mount Herzl and the Western Wall, prior to lunch at the President’s Residence. Eisenkot also received an honorary guard at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv to conclude his departure.

Kochavi was born in 1964 and grew up in Kiryat Bialik.

He began his IDF service in the Paratroopers’ Brigade, served as commander of the 101st Battalion, the Paratroopers’ Brigade, as the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, the GOC Northern Command and deputy IDF chief.

Eizenkott’s dignified departure began when Netanyahu addressed the media at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting last Sunday overviewing how they had worked together to build up Israel’s security.

Working with Mossad, Israel Police and other bodies, Eizenkott had been at the helm during hundreds of Israeli strikes against Iranian and Hezbollah targets.

“We worked to dismantle Hezbollah’s weapon tunnels  in Lebanon, in Operation Northern Shield and against Hamas tunnels on the Gaza border,” he explained.

“The IDF has major achievements under your command, yet we have much work to do and will do it.

Just in the last 36 hours, the air force attacked Iranian warehouses with Iranian weapons at the international airport in Damascus. The accumulation of recent attacks proves that we are determined more than ever to take action against Iran in Syria, just as we promised.

“Overnight, the air force also attacked on the southern front against Hamas targets in Gaza and this morning we announced the exposure of an additional tunnel, a main tunnel, perhaps the most important, that crossed the border into our territory. We are thus approaching the completion of the goal we set at the outset of Operation Northern Shield, the eradication of Hezbollah’s tunnels weapon.”

President Reuven Rivlin, former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, former IDF chiefs Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, MK Tzipi Livni, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz joined Netanyahu at a farewell ceremony at Kirya IDF Headquarters in Tel Aviv on Monday.

“Tremendous work has been done in the IDF under your command,” Netanyahu noted.

“We have spent countless hours in Cabinet meetings, went out to the field together, visited situation rooms to ensure we can handle any threat and face any enemy on all fronts.

“We’ve thwarted many threats posed to the State of Israel.”

He added, “If we work to protect our country with all of our might, we can avoid an all-out war, but if needed the IDF can face this challenge. Israel’s citizens will face this challenge and together we will ensure the Jewish State’s eternal existence.”

Rivlin praised Eizenkott as a military leader, soldier, commander and statesman describing him as modest, brave, responsible, a first-rate strategist and a people person.

“Over the last four years there were no wars, but the IDF under your command never ceased fighting,” he said. “You understood the advantages of force no less than the limitations of force. You articulated clearly the difference between the use of military force for the purposes of uncompromising defence and militarism that is a mask for aggression. You taught us strong, stable, responsible, quiet and considered use of military force.”

Rivlin added, “You were the right person in the right place. I know that you prefer to be out of the limelight but nevertheless, I hope that we will see you in public roles again.”

Turning his attention to Kochavi, he noted, “The IDF is getting an excellent Chief of Staff, I am sure you will succeed in steering the IDF through the challenges ahead with the same determination you have shown so far. You are among the best of our people, the best of our commanders. Your success is our success and we trust you.

“The outgoing Chief of Staff is from Golani and the incoming is from the Paratroopers, but the spirit is the same spirit, of mission, of devotion, of obligation to continue to carry out the duty of defending the State of Israel and the Israeli people in the best way possible. I, like all Israelis, have faith in you.”

By Louis Abrahams