On September 4, 2022, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced the appointment of the current deputy chief of staff, Hertzi Halevi, as the 23rd Israeli chief of staff. Halevi will succeed Aviv Kochavi, whose term ends in January 2023. The selection of Halevi came after the names of prominent military figures were circulated to fill the post, including Eyal Zamir, a close ally of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and Yoel Strick. This week, the Israeli Minister of Defense is expected to forward Halevi’s name to the Advisory Appointments Committee for Senior Roles for approval. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid congratulated Halevi, saying that he is “an excellent commander who is rich in experience and skill…He’ll lead the IDF to many significant accomplishments.”
Although Halevi holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and business administration from Hebrew University, he has held many prominent military positions, perhaps most notably head of the Military Intelligence Directorate (Aman), from 2014 to 2018. In 2021, Halevi was appointed deputy chief of staff, and he is famous for saying, “Peace is a time to prepare for war.” In general, the implications of his appointment as chief of staff of the Israeli army can be reviewed as follows:
1. The Army’s attempt to distance itself from political tensions: Israel is suffering from severe domestic divisions and tensions that are clearly reflected in the Israeli political sphere. Political parties and elites have failed to form a stable government that enjoys the confidence of the Israeli public, despite four rounds of elections in fewer than four years and preparations for a new round this coming November. Successive rounds of elections and declining confidence in political elites in Israel are also fueling polarization, especially with the increasing power and influence of right-wing extremist groups.
Thus, the appointment of Halevi as chief of staff may be an attempt to distance the Israeli military establishment from the sharp political polarization in Israel, as it is known in Israeli circles that Halevi deliberately avoids posts that may be associated with politics and prefers to be more greatly involved in the military track. This may have prompted him in the past to reject Benjamin Netanyahu’s successive offers to succeed Yossi Cohen as the head of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, or to work as then-Prime Minister Netanyahu’s military secretary.
It should be noted that Halevi had often expressed his concern over the disintegration of Israeli society due to internal political tensions. In 2016, as the head of Aman, he stated, “I’m much more concerned by the extent to which we are really one society. How cohesive Israeli society is today and if it will still be this way in 10 years.” In this regard, it has been noted that Halevi is known in Israel and in the media as the “philosopher general.”
2. Ongoing Israeli escalation against Gaza: Despite the tentative calm on the Israeli-Gaza border at the moment, the current “fragile truce” may not last long, especially with the unprecedented increase in tensions on the West Bank. Hence, the Israeli leadership may think that appointing Halevi as chief of staff sends a message to the Palestinian factions that Tel Aviv is determined to continue its policy of “hardening and escalation” against Gaza, particularly since Halevi has more experience in Gaza. He previously led the Southern Command and participated in numerous battles in Gaza. After the Gaza war in 2014, he was promoted to the rank of major general and named the head of Aman.
It is worth noting that Halevi had previously expressed pessimism about settlement efforts and opportunities to end the escalation in Gaza. In statements as the leader of the Southern Command, he said, “We won’t see complete quiet in the coming decade, or longer, if I can risk a long-term assessment.” In Halevi’s vision, the Palestinian factions are continuing to build their capacities, and this must be stopped. Indeed, Halevi goes further than that, stating in the past that economic development projects in Gaza lead to what he described as “terrorist capabilities.”
3. Intensifying military cooperation with Washington against Tehran: The appointment of Halevi as chief of staff is seen as enhancing mutual military cooperation and coordination between Washington and Tel Aviv regarding Iranian activities. Despite ongoing negotiations on the revival of the Iranian nuclear agreement, Tel Aviv has repeatedly declared its opposition to it and its refusal to be bound by it. In the Israeli view, this “opposition” may give it legitimacy to continue its secret military operations inside Iran, which have escalated in recent years. This level of operations may not be opposed by Washington, in order to put pressure on Iran on the one hand, and to satisfy Tel Aviv and the hawks in Washington on the other. It is worth noting that a high-level Israeli military delegation, led by Halevi when he was the deputy chief of staff, held security talks in the US last March, after Tehran launched missiles at what it called an Israeli “strategic center” in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is likely to intensify this type of coordination in the coming period.
4. Ongoing targeting of Iranian positions in the region: Perhaps the most significant message sent by the appointment of Halevi to this post is that Israeli strikes against Tehran’s military centers in the region will increase in the next phase. In this vein, it is noteworthy that, in 2017, when Halevi was the head of Aman, he stressed that Iran, Hezbollah, and the Syrian regime constitute the main threat to the region “and a major danger to the State of Israel. Iran is problematic not only because of the nuclear issue. It is in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.” Hence, it is conceivable that Israeli strikes will continue against Tehran-backed interests and militias in Syria, and perhaps Iraq, and may extend into Yemen in the coming period, as Halevi has indicated in previous statements that Tehran has established factories for manufacturing guided weapons in Iraq and Yemen.
5. Preparation for any potential escalation against Hezbollah: Israel’s Northern Command is experiencing significant tensions with Lebanese Hezbollah due to Israel’s attempt to extract gas from the Karish oil field and Hezbollah’s threats to prevent this. This situation may flare up again in the North. Halevi had previously accused Hezbollah of equipping military infrastructure based on Iranian capabilities and placing it close to the border with Israel, calling the group’s precision missile project the main threat in Lebanon. Thus, the appointment of Halevi as chief of staff indicates Tel Aviv’s readiness for potential escalation against Hezbollah, especially since Halevi had previously been named the commander of the 91st “Galilee” Division that is responsible for Israel’s northern border with Syria and Lebanon. Halevi also participated in Operation Poisonous Sting, in which Hezbollah leader Mustafa al-Dirani was kidnapped.
Finally, Hertzi Halevi’s appointment as Israeli chief of staff comes at a time when domestic tensions in Israel are increasing, with preparations for a new round of elections and the nuclear negotiations with Iran approaching a critical phase amid ongoing Israeli opposition. In addition, Israeli strikes are escalating against Iranian interests in Syria, and the possibility of conflict erupting with Palestinian factions in Gaza or with Hezbollah in the North is increasing. All these data indicate that the coming period may see more pre-emptive Israeli operations against the infrastructure of Iran and its proxies in the region, namely, those Halevi considers the main source of threat to Tel Aviv, with accurate intelligence information being given greater importance in providing a range of targets that can be dealt with by strong and sudden strikes.