INSS Insight No. 1113, December 4, 2018
Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir will be appointed deputy chief of staff of the IDF. This was confirmed by Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benjamin Netanyahu, following the recommendation of Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who will be the next chief of staff. The deputy chief of staff is in the shadow of the chief of staff, but nevertheless fills an important job in the IDF General Staff and will generally be one of the leading candidates for chief of staff in the next round. This article discusses the role of the deputy chief of staff, and recommends that the role be defined, preferably by law, to include replacement for the chief of staff in his absence.
On November 22, 2018, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the appointment of Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir as deputy chief of staff of the IDF, following the recommendation of Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the incoming chief of staff. Zamir was formerly the head of the Southern Command and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s military secretary. He previously served a long career in the Armored Corps.
The approval process for the deputy chief of staff is similar to the approval process of senior officers in the IDF General Command Staff (colonel and above), where the chief of staff recommends and the minister of defense approves. In this case, the recommendation came from the incoming chief of staff. At least in the past, the custom was for the political echelon to “express an opinion” on the deputy chief of staff appointment, as with the appointment of the head of the Intelligence Directorate, who is also the “national assessor,” and the commander of the Air Force, because of the IAF’s central role. However, the process differs from the chief of staff appointment, which includes an examination by the Advisory Committee on Senior Civil Service Appointments, and approval by the government. A disagreement in principle over the approval of the deputy chief of staff appointment made headlines just before Avigdor Liberman resigned as minister of defense. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who heads the political-security cabinet, believed that it was his job, along with the minister of defense, to approve the candidate. Liberman, however, contended that the appointment of deputy chief of staff does not concern the government or the prime minister, and there is no need to obtain their approval. Rather, it was for the incoming chief of staff to present candidates for deputy to the minister of defense, who could approve or reject the proposal. Since Prime Minister Netanyahu is now also the minister of defense, this problem has disappeared. However, it seems that the political echelon attaches great importance to this appointment.
The role of deputy chief of staff currently derives from the powers imposed by the chief of staff. Based on past experience, the position is usually held by a veteran general. The deputy chief of staff traditionally coordinates the General Staff related to IDF force buildup, above the level of head of the Planning Directorate and subordinate to instructions from the chief of staff. The deputy chief of staff is also responsible for coordinating the activity of the head of the Ministry of Defense Budget Division and of the director of R&D, Weapons & Technological Infrastructure, which are joint entities of the IDF and the Ministry of Defense civilian system. As such, he supervises the General Staff work on implementing the long term plan drawn up by the chief of staff – a task which requires him to take a broad view of the army as a whole, coordinate the various branches of the IDF and the Ministry of Defense, and engage with entities outside the army, such as the Finance Ministry. In this framework, the deputy chief of staff coordinates the IDF position on the army budget and streamlining. The chief of staff may also charge the deputy chief of staff with other tasks, including operational missions. In May 1991 then-Deputy Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak commanded Operation Solomon, which brought Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In addition, the division of labor between the chief of staff and his deputy may be affected by the skills and experience that each of them brings from previous positions.
Does the deputy chief of staff replace the chief of staff in his absence? The Basic Law: The Military (1976) states that the chief of staff is the highest command level in the military, and has no reference to the job of deputy chief of staff. According to the law, the chief of staff is appointed by the government on the recommendation of the minister of defense, and is subject to the government’s authority and subordinate to the minister of defense (authority takes precedence over subordination). According to interpretations of the law, the government is the “supreme commander” of the military and the Ministry of Defense is its agent. The Military Basic Law does not mention a replacement for the chief of staff in his absence, or in a situation where the chief of staff is incapacitated. Bills on this subject have been discussed in the past, but have never become law, and in view of the narrow formulation of the Military Basic Law, proposals have been raised for details in another law. In any event, an ad hoc replacement for the chief of staff has been appointed whenever necessary. For example, in January 2017 when Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot was medically incapacitated for a few days, his place was taken by his deputy, General Yair Golan. However, the appointment of the deputy chief of staff to replace the chief of staff is not automatic. When chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin felt ill just before the 1967 War, his place was taken by the head of the Operations Directorate, Ezer Weizmann, at the request of Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. At that time Haim Bar-Lev was the new deputy chief of staff (appointed in May 1967).
The position of deputy chief of staff is perceived as preparation for the next chief of staff. This gives the incumbent an advantage in the competition for the next chief of staff. Although not a prerequisite, there are in fact very few exceptions, such as the appointment of Lt. Gen. Mordechai Gur after the Yom Kippur War. The term of service of the deputy chief of staff is generally half that of the chief of staff (four years, including an extension year). The tradition of appointing the deputy chief of staff to chief of staff and the short term of two years in the job was introduced years ago, with the aim of preparing two veteran generals to compete for the job of chief of staff. So far it appears that the deputy who serves in the second two-year term is more likely to be appointed chief of staff.
The direct challenge for the deputy chief of staff lies in his ability to assist the chief of staff, primarily in force buildup. Heading the current agenda is the next five-year plan, to replace the Gideon Plan (2016-2020), which will also be based on the new US aid to Israel program. Presumably one of the principal challenges is to build the IDF maneuvers force and define the role of tanks in future operations. Zamir’s extensive experience in the Armored Corps should help him in this field. With regard to Israel’s enemies, it appears that the biggest challenge facing the chief of staff and his deputy concerns preparations for operations against Iran and its proxies, particularly on the Syrian and Lebanese fronts, and in the nuclear field. The Palestinian arena will also remain a focus of IDF activity.
The replacement for the chief of staff in his absence is highly important in the interface between the military and political echelons. It is natural for this to be defined as one of the jobs of the deputy chief of staff. At present, this matter is not regulated by law, which could damage the continuity of IDF command in extreme situations, until the government, on the recommendation of the minister of defense, appoints a replacement or a new chief of staff. Therefore, the role of the deputy chief of staff should be defined by law as follows: the most senior officer in the army after the chief of staff; the deputy chief of staff shall serve as replacement for the chief of staff in his absence or if he is unable to perform his job, unless the government has appointed another replacement for the chief of staff.
The appointment of the deputy chief of staff has great influence on the limited pool of realistic candidates for the role of chief of staff. In other words, the choice of deputy chief of staff could have material effect on the identity of the next chief of staff, and that is apparently the main reason for the intense interest shown by the political echelon in this appointment.
*Shmuel Even, who earned his Sc.D. at the Technion and the University of Haifa, is an economist and a senior research fellow at INSS. As the owner of Multi Concept (Consultants) Ltd., Dr. Even is involved in business research and consulting in the fields of business, management, and strategy. Previously Dr. Even served as the head of the Tnuva group; as a partner in a banking investment company; and as a financial consultant to leading companies in Israel. Dr. Even retired from the IDF with the rank of colonel, following a long career in the IDF’s Intelligence Branch. Dr. Even’s fields of research at INSS include: the Israeli economy; intellectual prperty; the gas and oil markets; national security strategy; defense expenditures; cyber issues; intelligence; the political process with the Palestinians; and more. Among his recent monographs: The Intelligence Community – Where To? (with Amos Granit, 2009); and Cyber Warfare: Concepts, Trends, and Implications for Israel (with David Siman-Tov, 2011).