Barring last-minute second thoughts, Israel's Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Gabi Ashkenazi has chosen Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, 45, who lives on a Galilee moshav with his wife and three children, as the next Director of Military Intelligence (AMAN).
Promoted to the rank of major general, he steps into the shoes of Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, the first fighter pilot ever to command Israeli Military Intelligence, who retires after four years on the job.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources report that Yadlin's retirement due earlier this year was postponed for the Jan. 2009 Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip and the expectation of an outbreak of hostilities with Iran and Hizballah. The changeover has been rescheduled for early spring 2010, provided no untoward changes occur in the region and based on estimates that no Israeli military action against Iran will take place before mid-2010 (for reasons outlined in a separate article in this issue).
Although he lacks previous intelligence experience, Brigadier Kochavi, current Director of Operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is reputed to be one of the IDF's finest tacticians. As head of intelligence, one of his regular duties will be to submit National Intelligence Estimates as the basis of government policy.
In the early months of his tenure, he will have to fill in gaps in his knowledge about Iran's nuclear program and vulnerabilities.
His lack of intelligence experience places Kochavi in the company of his most successful predecessors, two of whom minister of defense Ehud Barak and minister for strategic affairs Moshe Yaalon, came like him from tough combat units and nonetheless turned out brilliantly. Both went on to become chiefs of staff.
The incoming MI chief hails from the elite Paratroop Brigade, where he started out as commander of the distinguished Battalion 101, moving on to head the brigade's training school, then become its deputy commander and commander during the peak years of the second Palestinian uprising (2001-2003).
A textbook operation in counter-terror tactics
In Operation Defense Shield, which broke the back of the Palestinian uprising, Kochavi led his troops in the decisive battle for the capture of the West Bank town of Nablus, known then as “the capital of child suicide bombers.” This operation appears in the text books of many military academies in the West as a model for vanquishing terrorist groups holding a large city.
From 2004 to the end of 2008, he commanded the Gaza Division. During that time, his troops took part in the 2005 evacuation of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip. A year later, in June 2006, Cpl Gilad Shalit was abducted by the Hamas in a cross-border incursion into the Israeli sector under his purview.
In late 2006, Kochavi was to have left for a course of study at the London College of Security.
Like other Israeli generals, he was advised to cancel his plans because pro-Palestinian groups were using British courts to have Israeli military officers arrested for alleged war crimes.
Kochavi has a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a master's degree from Harvard.
The post of Director of Military Intelligence is one of the most coveted in the high command of Israel's Defense Forces, often a springboard to the top position of Chief of Staff.
Our military sources disclose that the top officers in the running for the job included Gen. Gadi Eisencott, OC Northern Command on the Syrian-Hizballah front, Gen. Yoav Galant, OC Southern Command with responsibility for the Gaza front, and Brig. Gen. Yossi Baiditz, head of the research division at Military Intelligence.
For the time being, all these would-be candidates stay on in their present jobs.