In the end, the argument that the IDF promotes colorless rule-abiding commanders is simply not true
In the two rounds of appointments of generals to positions in the General Staff and of division commanders that Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot carried out in the recent year, there was criticism that the IDF preferred officers who sanctify discipline and obey orders at the expense of courage and creativity, and who showed no flexibility in punishing daring officers with creative thinking. Some also claimed that in the promotion of certain officers who did not command brigades and divisions in Lebanon and Gaza, the IDF lost exactly those commanders who think outside the box.
Another claim made is that the IDF does not promote officers from religious Zionism to key positions. These claims were reinforced by the decision of the chief of staff not to appoint Brig.-Gen. Ofer Winter as commander of the division. Winter did most of his service at the head of the column, at the front, and was considered a daring and creative commander. He enlisted in Sayeret Matkal, IDF’s elite unit; after the officers’ course, he moved to the Maglan unit (where he served with Minister Naftali Bennett) and served as a company commander in Lebanon. Winter commanded a battalion in the Givati Brigade in a series of operations in Gaza (he was decorated with a citation and the battalion was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service for the first time in the IDF).
During Operation Protective Edge, Winter was the commander of the Givati Brigade. At the end of the campaign, a force from the brigade had an encounter with Hamas terrorists in the outskirts of Rafah that cost the lives of two officers and a soldier. The terrorists kidnapped Hadar Goldin’s body and escaped by tunnel. In order to thwart the abduction, Winter (according to the records of the communications network published on the Mako website) ordered "Hannibal Procedure" which was aggressive. The decision was justified, but there was also harsh criticism of the massive fire that he ordered to use, from which many Palestinian civilians who were not involved in terrorism were killed.
For some reason, the majority of those who rose for Winter’s defense chose to ignore the fact that during the period in which he served as the Givati brigade commander, the brigade had a series of disturbing incidents, including the irregularities and mishaps in the Tzabar Battalion, that its commander was Convicted and demoted for sexual misconduct towards a subordinate). Winter, as was published in Walla! Website, was questioned by the MPCID on suspicion of obstructing proceedings in the affair, because the deputy battalion commander came to him with the story only to be rejected and dismissed him from the brigade. In the end, as reported in Haaretz, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz rebuked Winter and wrote him a note in his personal file. It is also reasonable that the IDF commanders did not like the fact that Winter, according to an article published in al-Monitor by Ben Caspit, was apparently the officer who, without permission, informed his comrades-in-arms, Minister Bennett, about the tunnels at the beginning of “Protective edge”. It seems therefore that the decision not to promote him was motivated by practical motives.
"An officer who sends his subordinates a message that it is possible to violate the laws because the goal justifies it, will create a bad atmosphere in which his subordinates will take the law into their own hands," wrote Itamar Kremer, an ex- Givati officer who serves in reserve as a battalion deputy commander. That message remains true. The claims that the IDF prevents the promotion of religious officers are wrong. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Elazar Stern, who joined the paratroopers in 1974, testified that he was "the only religious platoon leader, the only religious company commander," but since then times have changed. Although there will always be a personal dimension to the considerations for which officers are promoted, the impressive presence of religious officers at every level of command in the IDF proves more than anything that the military does not check what does its field commanders have under the helmet and promotes on the basis of skills and abilities as much as possible.
In the end, the argument that the IDF promotes colorless rule-abiding commanders is simply not true. The current General Staff members are experienced, opinionated and highly professional. Two of its members were my battalion commanders in the Paratroopers and I can testify that they are among the best and most experienced. The units they commanded were always better because of them and they left behind battalions, brigades, and divisions much more prepared for war.
Among those officers who speak their mind and combine courage and ingenuity while obeying rules and orders are:
• Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heiman, an armored officer who also commanded the Northern Corps and now heads the Intelligence directorate.
• Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, a Paratrooper officer who served as a company commander during the years the IDF fought in Lebanon, and later as the commander of Sayeret Matkal and now commands the Southern Command. Halevi, by the way, comes from a religious background.
• A key figure in the General Staff is Air Force commander, Maj.-Gen. Norkin, who was the Head of the IAF Operations Department in the second Lebanon War (2006).
• Generals Nitzan Alon and Nadav Padan, both ex-Sayeret Matkal officers.
• Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram, who spent most of his career in the paratroopers and led the 890 battalion in counter-terrorism operations during the Second Intifada.
• Baram’s brigade commander in those operations (who was also his company commander when he joined the paratroopers’ anti-tank company), was Aviv Kochavi, now deputy Chief of Staff and a prominent candidate to replace Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot in January.
• Another prominent candidate is Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, also a paratroopers officer who commanded the Nahal Brigade in Operation Defensive Shield.
General Baram once described Chief of Staff Eizenkot and his deputy Kochavi as commanders who "look for a different direction and would be happy if you challenged them." The IDF knows how to hold on to its creative commanders, even if there were failures during their service, and to promote them. The military is not looking for yes-men, but initiative and courage cannot come at the expense of proper conduct.
The writer is founder and operator of the blog "In the Crosshairs" on military, security, strategy vision and practice.
(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", June 18, 2018)