The leadership of the Israel Defense Forces passed from former Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot to Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi in a formal ceremony at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kochavi’s wife, Yael, pinned his new insignia on his uniform.
In his first speech as IDF chief, Kochavi said, “I am taking on this role with awe, and see it as a privilege.”
“I am making a commitment to put all my energy into a lethal, efficient and innovative army that can meet its goals. The army expresses what is best in the people. It is ready for every mission and is all about victory. The IDF has used its long arm to eradicate threats,” he said.
Netanyahu said “our mission for the security of Israel must not encounter obstacles. We have worked to keep those who want to kill us from getting stronger. … The stronger we are, the bigger our chances for peace. Muslim countries understand that we aren’t the enemy, but rather a source of support.”
The prime minister wished Eizenkot success in civilian life.
Addressing Kochavi directly, Netanyahu said, “You are carrying the heavy responsibility of making sure that the IDF fulfills its missions. The goal is clear—to ensure that we retain our superiority over our enemies. We will guarantee an iron fist against our enemies, near and far.
“In the next decade, we will complete an active [defense system] that will cover the entire country. We need to add more to the defense budget to protect what we have achieved with the economy. There is no substitute for our sons’ and daughters’ determination to stand up for their country. We aren’t seeking needless wars, but in necessary ones, we will be forced to make sacrifices,” said Netanyahu.
Eizenkot also spoke at the ceremony, calling his own 40 years of IDF service a “mission.”
“I saw it as a responsibility to bring every soldier home alive. Every day, we are tested in fighting our enemies. I am leaving a trained, prepared and powerful army that has bolstered its power through insight and determination, and which has proved that victory is a foremost value,” he said.
“As an army of the people, we must do everything to protect the IDF’s place as a central point of national consensus,” he added.
A steady rise in the chain of command
Following the ceremony at the Kirya, the Kochavis were due to visit the President’s Residence in Jerusalem for a lunch with President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama. While in Jerusalem, there were also set to visit the Western Wall and the Mount Herzl National Hall of Remembrance.
Later on Tuesday, Kochavi was scheduled to return to Tel Aviv for an honor guard for the outgoing chief of staff at the Kirya military headquarters and a toast in his new office.
Kochavi was born in Kiryat Bialik, outside Haifa. His mother was a physical-education instructor and his father owned a shop. In 1982, Kochavi volunteered for the IDF Paratroops Brigade, and he was made commander of the paratroopers in 2001, a position he held during “Operation Defensive Shield” in 2003.
Kochavi adopted the tactic of using sledgehammers to break the walls of homes during house-to-house raids so troops could avoid getting trapped in terrorist ambushes.
Later, he was made commander of the Gaza Division, which he oversaw during Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit on the Gaza border in 2006. An investigative committee convened to probe Schalit’s abduction found no fault with the chain of command at the time of the incident.
In 2010, Kochavi became head of Military Intelligence. He was head of Military Intelligence during “Operation Pillar of Defense” in 2012 and “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014, after which he came under harsh criticism over the state of the IDF’s intelligence before the operation was launched. Kochavi was also accused of having failed to detect and address the terror tunnels dug by Hamas beneath the Gaza border.
In November 2014, Kochavi was made GOC Northern Command. One of the important initiatives he introduced was the IDF’s “good neighbor” policy, in which Israel provided humanitarian aid and emergency medical care to Syrians near the border.
During his tenure at the Northern Command, the IDF also began tracking tunnels that Hezbollah was digging underneath the Israel-Lebanon border.