As an infantry soldier, the boots were my most important gear after my weapon. In the IDF boots are issued to soldiers by the army. I had a problem with a pair of boots; they did not fit well. I couldn’t get them replaced through the normal channels, because they were slightly worn but not enough to be considered obsolete. I wrote a letter to Rafael Eitan (Raful), which was the Israeli chief of staff at the time. Two weeks later I was ordered to report to the brigade’s commander. He was livid for not coming to him first. He first lectured me, then handed me a brand new pair of boots. I don’t know any other army where low ranking soldiers have such access to their chief of staff and feel comfortable enough to ask for his intervention on such trivial matters.
The IDF chief of staff (Ramatkal in Hebrew) is one of the most respected and most trusted people in Israel. Just like in every army, the Ramatkal’s primary duty is to prepare the army for the next war and to win the war when it breaks out. However, unlike other chief of staffs, the Ramatkal wears additional hats, which are unique to the Israeli society.
In a country where the vast majority of its young adults are drafted to the army for a three years period, in a place that experiences military combat operations on a regular frequency, it is almost certain that most Israeli young adults will face a life threatening situation at least once while in the army. Israeli parents want a chief of staff that his number one priority (after winning the war) will be to serve as a guardian of their children. The Ramatkal has to answer not only to his superiors (the defense minister and the prime minister), but also to every Israeli mother. Israeli mothers do not hesitate to contact the Ramatkal when they feel that it is needed. Israeli mothers are credited with forcing the Israeli army to withdraw from Lebanon after the death toll was too high. (A movement which was started by four mothers in 1997, led to the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.)
Because of the unique structure of the Israeli army, the Ramatkal starts his military career the same way as every other private. He comes up through the ranks while having to prove himself at every level. He is never too far from his soldiers to understand their needs.
As he matures as a commander, the Ramatkal serves not only as a military commander, but also as a fatherly figure for all his soldiers. In many cases, because it takes 20-30 years to become a chief of staff, and because the service is mandatory, there are always soldiers from the Ramatkal’s immediate family in the army. Some of them are in elite units. When the Ramtkal orders a military combat action, he knows very well that he is sending his children, his nephews, his sons-in-law, and his neighbors into very dangerous situation, that if there are casualties, he personally will have to deliver the bad news to his relatives (wife,sister, brother, parents, etc.).
All chiefs of staff are entrusted with ensuring the survival of their country as an independent nation. The Ramatkal is entrusted with protecting the Jewish people from extinction. There is a big difference between the two requirements: The Ukrainian chief of staff job is to ensure that Ukrainians are living in an independent state. If Ukraine loses the war, the worst that can happen is that Ukrainians will live under Russian rule. If Israel loses a war, it means a Holocaust larger than what the Nazis did. The Ramatkal’s duty is to ensure that Israel never loses a war. Never means Forever.
On February 16, 2015, Gadi Eizenkot was promoted to be Israel’s 21st Ramatkal. He is the first Israeli chief of staff from a Jewish Moroccan family.
He started his military career in the Golani brigade, where he served as enlisted soldier and ended up at the top position of the Golani brigade commander. On his way to become the Ramatkal, he served in key positions at the IDF’s high command. During his military service he was injured three times by “friendly” fire. His first military combat experience was in the First Lebanon war where he commanded a Golani company who fought its way to Beirut.
The two examples below show two sides of Gadi Eizenkot. First as a commander who puts his career on the line for his soldiers and then as an uncompromising military commander preparing his unit for battle.
Gadi Eizenkot was known as a daring commander, however, he was relieved from his command as a company commander prematurely, in a humiliating public event in front of his soldiers, after refusing to call his soldiers back from a well-deserved vacation after completing their assignment in Lebanon, to participate in an operation, which he considered to be unimportant.
As a Brigade commander he tackled one of Golani’s most difficult issues; lack of discipline among its senior soldiers. Up to that time, older Golani soldiers enjoyed significant privileges. They had the ability to ignore their junior officers orders without suffering the consequences. It was a known problem which most commanders learned to live with. Eizenkot took it on. He sent tens of soldiers and commanders to a military jail, kicked others out of the unit, and disbanded an entire Golani company. Something that was never done before. In the end he was able to uproot the problem and changed the brigade forever.
As the present Ramatkal, Gadi Eizenkot ,is now carrying on his shoulders the heavy load of ensuring the survival of the Jewish people. Israel is counting on his wisdom, his courage, and his leadership, to make the difference.
Gadi Eizenkot, the 21st IDF Ramatkal (Left) with the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (center) and with Benny Gantz , the 20th IDF Ramatkal (Right)