Waiting for Gadi Eisenkot
Will another former IDF Chief of Staff Throw His Hat in the Political Ring?
Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot’s name is currently gaining in popularity as the next Israeli general to trade his uniform for a suit and jump into politics, following the Knesset’s vote of no-confidence in current Prime Minister’ Binyamin Netanyahu’s government.
Although the Knesset requires three more procedural no-confidence votes before calling new elections, party heads, policy wonks and political analysts believe that Eisenkot will be the next general to enter Israel’s difficult, unforgiving and demanding political fray.
“Gadi Eisenkot was a good chief of staff and has more political qualities than some other former chiefs of staff. It is a good sign that he is modestly finding his way into politics without presenting himself as a savior,” Prof. Dan Schueftan, head of the international graduate program in National Security Studies at Haifa University, told The Media Line.
Getting elected is easy, governing is not.
Schueftan noted that one of the founders of modern sociology, Max Weber, wrote that politics is a profession, and though generals do practice some politics in the military “they have very little real political or governing experience.” he told The Media Line.
“There is a matter of sounding good [via sound bites and electioneering] versus doing good, which can be painful for the electorate but is actual politics,” said Schueftan, adding: “Getting elected is easy, governing is not.”
There are too many former IDF chiefs of staff currently in or going into politics, said Alon Pinkas, a former diplomat who served as an advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, calling it an “underlying inflation for former IDF chiefs of staff.”
“Often they don’t belong in politics. It is easy getting votes, but putting together a government and governing is something completely different,” Pinkas told The Media Line.
“Transferable values is a key notion,” he said. “Taking the traits and qualities of the military such as hierarchical chain of command is not transferable to political life, in most cases. Understanding the nuts and bolts of politics, the give and take, the compromises is not always the case with career military personnel.”
Yet, the former IDF chief of staff from 2015 into 2019 is being pursued by a range of parties and politicians to join their slate. From the liberal-right, Eisenkot is being courted by Moshe Ya’alon of the Yesh Atid-Telem party. Ya’alon is likely to split from his current political partner at the center-left Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, if he can convince Eisenkot to join him at Telem. Yesh Atid is another potential home for Eisenkot, or the general could try to re-energize the moribund left-wing Labor party.
There is a deep leadership supply in the army and there is enormous demand in the political sphere.
Schueftan explained why Eisenkot is so in demand.
“There is a deep leadership supply in the army and there is enormous demand in the political sphere. I would say that Eisenkot, and others coming from the top echelons of the IDF, look around at the Knesset and see it is comprised of ‘shmegegges.’ [the Yiddish word for someone full of hot air or not worth much.] We are worth more,” he said.
“If Eisenkot is going to take the anti-Bibi votes, he will need to show what he stands for and answer the question: ‘Who are you?’ Not just be an anti-Bibi politician,” said Pinkas, referring to the prime minister by his nickname. Eisenkot did not respond to an interview request and questions from The Media Line. Local Israeli media has reported that Eisenkot has denied to close associates that he has already decided to run in the next elections, likely to occur sometime in spring 2021.
The list of retired Israeli generals and military personnel who have become politicians is long. Former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak rose to the top job, while Rafael Eitan and Moshe Ya’alon served as defense ministers.
In the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s, the door between leading the IDF to joining a political party was natural.
“IDF generals in that period were war heroes and the public looked up to them for their exploits. They were the country’s heroes and winners in Israel’s formidable wars,” said Prof. Ofer Kenig, a research fellow at the Israeli Democracy Institute.
Today, Kenig told The Media Line, “the generals’ market value or share price is not as high as it used to be. Their public image is lower.”
Echoing this, Uri Ben Eliezer, professor emeritus of sociology at Haifa University, told The Media Line: “Turning their swords into scepters [going from the IDF to the government] is no longer such a part of Israeli society. There is less trust of generals than in the past.”
Ironically, if Eisenkot does join politics and is elected, he could be among four former IDF chiefs of staff serving in the Knesset at the same time, alongside Ya’alon, current Foreign Minister Gadi Ashkenazi and current Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz. This in contrast to the years 2016-2019 when there was not a single former IDF chief of staff serving in the parliament.
Indeed, if Eisenkot were to be elected to join the Knesset, he would be the 14th former IDF chief of staff to sit in its plenum.
For now, though, everyone is waiting for his announcement. Will he or won’t he?