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Intel: Why Israel is treating its new army chief as royalty

Incoming Israeli Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi walks out at the end of a handover ceremony where he replaces Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen - RC1A095B08F0

This week’s changing of the guard at the top of the Israeli army has all the trappings of a royal wedding. The replacement of Gadi Eizenkot with Aviv Kochavi as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) today was marked by a daylong ceremony, including a prayer visit to the Wailing Wall, lunch at the president's home and a fancy ceremony with a who’s who of the Israeli elite. The country’s TV stations all broadcast the ceremony live and extensively quoted from both generals’ speeches. The preceding weekend, seemingly every media outlet published interviews with Eizenkot (who never gave interviews while he was on duty) and plenty of trivia about Kochavi.

Why it matters: The IDF ranks at the top in poll after poll involving public trust, far ahead of any other institution. Since serving in the army is mandatory for most Israelis (except Arab citizens), nearly every family has or has had a soldier in the ranks. High-ranking officers in particular are considered to have given their best years to the country and are widely viewed as the ultimate patriots. In a divided society that despises most politicians, love for the army cuts across almost every demographic and party.

The pageantry raised eyebrows on social media.

“This chief of staff festival is way over the top,” tweeted Jerusalem Post editor Yaakov Katz.

“That is the closest Israel gets to a royal wedding,” replied Peter Lerner, a former IDF spokesman.

What’s next: With April elections looming on the horizon, candidates of all stripes are hoping for some of that popularity to rub off on them. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is naturally keen to embrace the military in his quest to portray himself as Israel’s best defender. But former generals themselves are also in the running: Polls show former IDF chief Benny Ganz getting 15 of 120 seats in the Knesset in the upcoming elections, before even saying one word about his views or ideology. A half-dozen other former generals are also expected to run. They all would do well to remember Ehud Barak, another former IDF chief who is now remembered as one of the worst prime ministers in Israel’s history.

Read more: Read Mazal Mualem's take on why outgoing IDF chief Eizenkot is praised as a calm and resilient leader.  

-Danny Zaken

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