Former IDF Chief of Staff and member of Israel’s “War Cabinet” says the government is not telling us the truth or making the right decisions when it comes to the war. What now?
This is a segment from The “Generals and Genocides” Edition.
And now it is time for our first discussion.
So Alison, part Job, part Isaiah, part Samson, what should we make of Gadi Eizenkot? – Gadi Eizenkot, the former IDF chief of staff and member of Israel’s five-man war cabinet, gave an amazing interview last week on one of the country’s most important TV and news magazine shows, “Uvda,” or “Fact,” as it’s called, basically Israel’s “60 Minutes.”
Gadi Eizenkot headed the IDF from 2015 to 2019, and before that, he was deputy chief of staff, head of the Northern Command, head of IDF operations in the West Bank, and head of the Golani Brigade.
In 2022, he joined Benny Gantz’s National Union Party.
The two men have a long history of mutual respect.
Gantz preceded Eizenkot as IDF chief of staff, and the two men’s brilliant military careers were pretty much concurrent.
As is often the case with generals, when Eizenkot went into politics, his views were not well-known, although rumors were and remain that he thinks some sort of Palestinian state should rise.
After October 7th, Gadi Eizenkot and Benny Gantz agreed, maybe as much as a former IDF chief of staff as present-day political leaders, that they owed it to the country to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition and bring their experience to the war effort.
The so-called war cabinet meets on most days in, quote, “the hole,” the IDF headquarters war room, and this small group has, until now, made most of the strategic decisions behind the fighting in close consultations with the head of the IDF and Israeli intelligence organizations.
Such disagreements as have arisen in the cabinet have mostly stayed under wraps until Eizenkot’s interview on “Uvda” last week.
A very, very, very important fact to know about Gadi Eizenkot is that on December 7th, his 25-year-old son, his youngest of five children, Galmeir Eizenkot, was killed in an explosion in Dhebalia in northern Gaza.
On the next day, December 8th, Gadi Eizenkot’s 19-year-old nephew, Maor Cohen Eizenkot, was killed in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.
Both boys were named after Gadi Eizenkot’s grandfather.
Earlier in the war, Gadi Eizenkot’s niece was wounded in a missile attack outside of Gaza.
The past 10 or 12 weeks have been a time of almost biblical tragedy for Gadi Eizenkot.
In the television piece, one feels the weight of all this man has suffered.
Still, though he is grieving, he does not appear to be stricken by grief.
He is still sharp and incisive, and although he has a reputation as a man of few words, he speaks with clarity, precision, and force.
The interview is very long and covers a great many topics, but arguably, the most important things Eizenkot says are these.
Number one, that Prime Minister Netanyahu bears responsibility, although not sole responsibility, for the devastating failures on October 7th.
Number two, that it is unrealistic to believe that Hamas will be uprooted and routed in this round of fighting in Gaza.
Number three, that, quote, “Those who talk about an absolute defeat of Hamas,” he’s presumably referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu, quote, “do not tell the truth.
“There is no need to tell tall tales.”
Four, that the government needs to have a plan to bring the war to a close, but it doesn’t.
Five, that the most important goal of the war and the highest priority should be getting the hostages home.
Eizenkot implies that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Galant see things differently.
Six, that the hostages will not be saved through military action and that the government should be willing to stop the war, and soon, if that is what it takes to get the hostages back.
He said, quote, “It is impossible to get the hostages “returned alive in the near future “without a deal with Hamas, “and anyone who is selling stories to the public “is selling stories.”
He’s very big on stories and fairy tales and fantasies. – And truth. – Yeah.
Seven, that he told the families of the hostages that they should protest however they see fit.
He said, quote, “Do whatever the heart “and your emotions tell you to do, “because I cannot tell you what the right thing to do is.”
Eight, that it was he who kept the government from carrying out an attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon, which attack, he said, would have had disastrous results.
Nine, that he has, quote, “Red lines, “and it is therefore very possible “that he will need to leave the government “and the war cabinet soon.”
The implication is that Prime Minister Netanyahu is not waging the war as it ought to be waged.
And he hinted there that he might even do it as an individual if it’s Benny Gantz’s decision not to take the party out of the government.
All of this very public insider criticism of the managing of the war while the war is going on is extraordinary and without precedent in Israeli history.
Gadi Eisenkot’s remarks were attacked by some of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition partners.
Betzel El-Smotrich, for example.
Although it’s difficult to really attack a man who’s mourning his son killed in that war effort, right?
Eisenkot’s remarks were also applauded in the papers and on social media, and there were those who said he would make a better Prime Minister than any other candidate on the scene.
Miriam, this was really an overwhelming and shocking interview, and it raised all sorts of questions.
How this war is being carried out, about Gadi Eisenkot the general, Gadi Eisenkot the politician, Gadi Eisenkot the man.
What did you think and what should we think? – I agree it was really powerful.
Eisenkot the man has a beautiful family that is coping with a horrible tragedy.
He has dignity and this kind of gruff gentleness, like he speaks gruffly with pauses, but then actually with a lot of precision as well.
And it’s very captivating.
And it feels reassuring.
He has a certain kind of slow wisdom that he can offer, which we know is rooted in Gadi Eisenkot the general, who has spent much of his adult life trying to keep us safe, and is also partly responsible for this debacle.
And no degree of personal tragedy should let us forget that.
If it’s true that he was decisive in convincing the cabinet to back down from an all out confrontation with Hezbollah in the north, then we may have him to thank for saving the country.
I think that was what we were meant to understand from that, from him sort of going up to the, he describes, or maybe Ilana Dayan describes, and he confirms that he physically shook the army official who, and demanded that he say out loud that Israel was not in a position to be able to prosecute such a two front war, and saved it by what he called a hair’s breadth.
So his insights into the limits of what the military can accomplish are critical, which is part of his brand of speaking truth.
Eisenkot the politician, that’s where I think we need to keep our critical faculties on full alert.
He’s very much a player, and I think we need to factor that into everything he says.
I think also there was a dance going on with Ilana Dayan, who also– – The interviewer. – The interviewer, who also has, I think you could feel an agenda there. – What was her agenda? – I think she wanted to help him position himself as a possible– – Prime Minister. – Yeah, yeah, I mean, she pushed him, and I think they worked that out very well, ’cause you know what, you ask the question, and he can say, “Well, I’m dealing with my family issues.”
Once you ask the question, you’ve put that out there in a way that it wouldn’t have been out there, and he didn’t initiate that question.
So you have to pay attention to also how she’s thinking about it.
It’s her right, but that was a framing that happened there.
I think when he says that a leader needs to tell the truth about the limits of what the army can do in Gaza, I think even that he’s obviously implying that we’re not getting the truth from our current leadership and he’s sort of forging the path for a way out, and I feel like it matches very much the moment that we are in.
We are really, all of this talk about unity is belied by the fractures that we are seeing, because, not because we’re bad people, but because there are legitimate debates about what to do, and they’re, I mean, the most painful debate of whether increasing the military action helps the hostages or harms the hostages.
Netanyahu has said, “The harder we hit them, “the more likely we’re able to get a deal “or get the hostages out,” and others like Gadi Eizenkot are saying that that just doesn’t comport with the truth.
There’s no Entebbe that can happen.
There’s no, you know, there’s no stomping them.
There is, you know, as he implied, stopping them, and this is very controversial, because I just wanna, just, you know, yesterday at one of the funerals, Benny Gantz attended the funeral, and the brother of the fallen soldier practically, you know, attacked him and said, “Don’t stop this, don’t stop this war.
“If you do, my brother will have fallen for naught.”
So this is going, you know, and Gantz and Eizenkot are in that camp of considered the moderates, the ones saying, “We need to open up “this ceasefire possibility,” and that could rip us apart, and so we’re really in a precarious moment. – Yeah.
I found this interview so moving and so affecting.
I mean, I found the man so moving and so affecting, and he’s been a public figure for years, including when he was the IDF chief of staff, but I’ve never really paid such close attention to him, and even though ever since I was a teenager, one of the things that I’ve criticized most about the political culture in Israel is how much we venerate people who come from the army, which is far less true now than it was when I was a teenager, but I have that in me for sure, and maybe part of the reason I always object to this is ’cause I’m so drawn to a man that has the quiet authority that feels like it comes from having been there and knowing things, and then is not a militarist in any obvious way.
He’s a person saying, “Let’s not use the army for this.
“Let’s not use the army for that,” and so I kind of fall in love with someone, and of course I will fall in love with anyone who is mourning, so I fell very much in love with him, and hence let my critical faculties, Miriam, that you rightly say are so important to keep in place, fall somewhat while listening and did not view him so much as a politician, but I would add that he does not act like the kind of ambitious politician that we have grown used to.
One of the things that he said in this interview, but he’s also said it elsewhere because a lot of people are pressing him to say, “Okay, there seems to be some disagreement “between you and your party leader, Benny Gantz.
“Why don’t you start your own party?”
People have been pressing him in this direction, and in this interview and elsewhere, he said, “Look, Benny Gantz did a thing.”
Literally, he said, “Benny Gantz did a thing.
“He created this party, and it made a difference,” and then at a moment when national unity was needed, he brought this party into this government, and let’s give some respect to what Benny Gantz has done, has tried to do what he has and what he has accomplished, all of which he said at the time as a way of saying, “I’m not going to challenge this man.
“I’m going to support this man,” even though maybe he might well believe that he’s better able to be a prime minister at this moment.
I have no idea about that. – Yeah, he’s also very pragmatic and says Benny Gantz is super popular. – So, but it’s impressive that he does not seem to be trying to undermine Benny Gantz, but beyond that, he’s actively supporting Benny Gantz, and then the last thing that I’ll say, ’cause I’ve talked too long, is that when I started watching this interview, I had one ambivalent set of views about the hostages and how the war ought to be prosecuted, which is that it seems, I can’t make the statement that Susan, for instance, and many other people I know and love make so easily, that if we had the chance to stop the war in exchange for all the hostages, we should immediately do that.
I’ve not been able to say that the argument that maybe the best thing to do for the best number of people by a long shot is to continue the war, I wasn’t convinced by that, but I was never convinced that I was wrong.
And then having Gadi Eizenkot, this man who knows the army so well and is so, it seems to me, morally serious, say we should stop the war if it comes to that in order to save these hostages.
After watching this interview, I came away, and that was my view.
I just, over the course of 50 minutes, probably half of which I watched at one and a half speed, so 40 minutes of watching him, then I came away with a different view at the end of 109 days of thinking about this issue.
So I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I bet I’m not.
I think this interview is like maybe a teeny bit part of a turning point in the way that we look at things like the war.
Alison, what do you think? – I thought the most shocking line part of this interview was him saying openly that a complete victory over Hamas was unrealistic.
It’s been translated as tall tale.
He said like a thousand and one nights. – Yeah. – You know, he was like– – So tall tales. – Yeah, yeah, like sort of like a real fantasy legend.
And that’s serious because these were like the declared goals of the war, and their expectations were raised. – And they still exist, you hear it every day. – Yeah, we’re gonna get rid of Hamas, we’re gonna smash them, we’re gonna turn them into dust, we’re gonna turn them into nothing.
So to have someone like him sit there and say, that’s a fantasy, wake up.
Really like, I think, you know, switches a lot of the paradigm through which we see this war, ’cause we’re led to believe that this is accomplishable, whether, you know, okay, so maybe it’ll take a year, maybe it’ll take longer, but this is something, you know, that can be done.
And when he’s saying that it can’t be done, and just, you know, just to connect it with everything else that I’m feeling in the country over the past week or so, I just keep flashing back to Vietnam.
It just feels like such a Vietnam situation of an unwinnable war and an unwinnable situation, and what do you do?
You know, again, we’ve got the hostage factor, which is different, but that just feels like such a reminder of, even in victory, there’s gonna be no victory.
You know, what’s gonna be the definition of victory?
What’s gonna be the definition of defeat?
We’re gonna have to paint this, you know.
Ooh, it was so, I mean, that’s what really hit me, I think, when he said that, when he said that defeating Hamas is impossible.
That’s what really sort of pulled the carpet from underneath my feet and made me fall on my ass. – I don’t think, for me, it is such a rock my world kind of statement to make. – Coming from him. – Well, I think that we’ve been– – Publicly. – The goals of the war, la Hachria, what do we, how do we call it?
La Hachria de Hamas, to defeat the Hamas.
Those are slogans and we’ve known that they are slogans.
We didn’t know what that exactly meant because Hamas is an ideology and there are thousands and thousands of Hamas fighters and there’s the leadership.
And so I guess, you know, probably a lot of us imagine, kill all the, kill Sinoir and all of the top brass and get rid of all of the rocket launchers or something.
But it never was spelled out.
And we know that, I mean, you know, it’s, war is really complicated and victory is one of those words that is really just a populist term.
It never meant, you know, it was never clear.
And there was a lot of criticism for that.
Although I think it’s also possible to say they just didn’t know.
So they went in and started hitting as hard as they could and left open some possibilities also as part of the negotiation to say, so that we didn’t climb up a tree and say, okay, this is exactly what a victory image looks like.
You know, we’ve got Sinoir and we, I don’t know, execute him publicly, you know, that wasn’t ever a possibility.
So I think what’s happening here is he’s taking a ship and slightly, he’s not saying we’re turning this ship around.
He’s steering it towards some clarity and he’s prioritizing unity in Israel as a strategic value and in thinking in a strategic way, not just a values way, is saying that this is a necessary strategic value that also needs to be raised. – So you did not need this from him and hence did not get it, but I didn’t need it.
He also, I think, gave permission to feel outright these grave doubts about the achievability of what a lot of politicians and leaders of the army have said is achievable.
And for me, that was the switch.
I would also, just the last thing that I want to say is that I was looking for it and did not identify even a molecule of him hinting or believing that he has any moral authority that comes from having buried his son and his nephew and having visited his niece in the hospital, which is something that one finds really across the board of these army people.
They don’t do that.
But it was really remarkable because the interview would have made it possible for him to take that mantle.
And he absolutely refused to do that, which I found to be moving and beautiful and to add to his moral authority, actually.