Israel’s war on Hamas, codenamed Swords of Iron, is about to enter its fifth week with a plan dubbed “Momentum” that was adopted in 2020 for achieving decisive victory on multiple fronts. This plan was supposed to push technology to the front line and enable troops to move faster and conduct strikes more efficiently, using precision and speed. It was put in place by former IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.
But as Israel’s planes continue to pound Hamas strongholds and its troops penetrate further into Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reported to have frequently been at loggerheads with his military and intelligence top brass.
In a now deleted post on social media, Netanyahu wrote on October 28 that “at no point was a warning given to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Hamas’s intention to start a war”. He was slammed by Benny Gantz, the opposition leader now serving in the war cabinet, and others for the post and then deleted it from X/Twitter.
Netanyahu apologised for the post last Sunday, saying he backed the security services and the army. The dispute goes to the heart of questions after October 7 about whether the leadership will take responsibility.
While the defence establishment has largely taken responsibility, but said unity is needed to win the war, the political leadership has been more circumspect. As more details come out about warnings and failures on October 7, the desire to maintain unity until victory, during a long war, could be difficult.
Here is a guide to the key people in the IDF and intelligence who are conducting the Gaza operation.
Yoav Gallant, Defence Minister
Gallant sits atop Israel’s powerful defence ministry, which is based in Tel Aviv. Gallant was born in 1958 in Jaffa. His mother was a Holocaust survivor, while his father fought in the Negev during Israel’s War of Independence.
Gallant began his career in Shayetet 13, the elite naval commando unit, which he rose to command.
He later served as Gaza division commander and then as Ariel Sharon’s military secretary.
He was also head of the IDF’s Southern Command where he led operation Warm Winter and was involved in Cast Lead in 2009.
He was tapped to be Chief of Staff in 2010 but the appointment fell through. He went into politics in 2015 in the Kulanu party before moving to Likud.
“In terms of the operational aspects of manoeuvring, at the end of the day, nothing will stop the IDF,” he said last week. “It is a combination of two things: our aerial capabilities and ground manoeuvring.
“This should be our last manoeuvring operation in Gaza, for the simple reason that afterwards there will be no more Hamas.”
But this week he was more cautious. “It won’t be a short war, it won’t be an easy war,” he said.
Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, IDF Chief of Staff
In the wake of the October 7 attack, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has had the tough task of making sure the IDF is prepared for the war in Gaza and on other fronts that may develop.
More than 300 IDF soldiers were killed on October 7 and more have died in the two weeks of war since then. This is an unprecedented toll for the army. Halevi has toured and spoken to many units, and says the army is ready for the incursion into Gaza.
“At this stage, there are tactical and strategic factors which are allowing us more time to improve and to exploit every minute to be more ready,” he said last week.
“With every minute that passes for the other side, we are attacking the enemy more, killing his fighters, killing his commanders, destroying his infrastructure, and collecting more intelligence for the next moves.”
Halevi comes from the paratroopers, a traditional trajectory for those picked to lead the Israeli army.
He served in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit in the Paratroop Brigade before moving to the IDF intelligence directorate.
He is the first IDF Chief of Staff born after the 1967 war. He grew up in Jerusalem, was conscripted in 1985 and served as a platoon commander in the 101st Battalion.
He saw action in Lebanon in the 1980s and then completed a degree in the US at the National Defense University. He commanded the IDF’s 91st division and Southern Command, waging Operation Black Belt against Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He became deputy chief of staff and was selected by then Defence Minister Benny Gantz to be Chief of Staff.
Halevi is reported to have sought solutions that would avert the resumptions of hostilities in Gaza, joining then Mossad chief Yossi Cohen on a visit to Doha to convince the Qataris to increase their monthly aid package to Gaza.
Tomer Bar, Air Force chief
Major General Tomer Bar replaced Major General Amikam Norkin as chief of the IAF in 2022.
“The IAF will remain competent and available for any scenario and challenge, in arenas both near and far, facing terrorist organisations, militaries and emerging actors” he said on assuming command.
These challenges require broader cooperation. It is clear to me, beyond any doubt, that the right way is broad cooperation between the various IDF branches, directorates and commands, as well as the Ground Forces and the Israeli Navy.”
He vowed in 2021 that any war with Hezbollah would see the group suffer an “unimaginable blow”. Bar was born in 1969 and served as an F-16 and F-15 pilot in the 133rd Squadron in the 1990s.
He commanded a squadron during the Second Lebanon War and later headed the Air Force’s Operations Department when Israel launched Cast Lead.
He was commander of Tel Nof air base and later headed the Design Directorate, which has been described as “a rejiggered version of what was once the Planning Directorate, which is tasked with overseeing the development of new combat and weapons techniques”.
Aharon Haliva, Military Intelligence chief
Haliva was picked in 2021 by Kohavi and Gantz to head Military Intelligence, having been head of the IDF Operations Directorate. He was born in 1967 and served in the paratroopers.
He served in Lebanon and moved through various positions in the paras before ending up in the IDF’s technological and logistics directorate.
Haliva was informed of unusual activity by Hamas on the evening before their surprise attack, but he concluded it was an exercise and recommended waiting.
On October 17, he apologised to the IDF for the intelligence failure: “We failed in our most important mission, and as head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate I bear full responsibility for the failure,” he wrote.
Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari
Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari briefs the press on the Al Ahli hospital destruction (Photo: Getty Images)
Hagari is the IDF’s spokesman, playing a key role in shaping the narrative regarding the war and providing information to the public.
Hagari has taken on a challenging role, conducting daily briefings and being the public face of Israel’s war effort at a time when many leading politicians and officers have not been in front of the media.
He came up through the navy, in contrast to previous IDF spokespersons. He was a navy commando in Shayetet 13 after joining the IDF in 1995.
He took part in operations during the Second Intifada and served in several other units before returning to the Shayetet as a deputy commander.
As a senior officer he served under Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and then worked closely with Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot before becoming head of operations for the navy.
He assumed his current role in early 2023, and has already been spokesperson during the short operations of Shield and Arrow and Home and Garden, conducted in Gaza and the West Bank.
Ronen Bar, head of Shin Bet
Bar is head of the Shin Bet, the internal intelligence agency, a position he has served in since 2021.
This is the key intelligence role inside Israel. He was appointed by former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, having come up through the army’s elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit.
He has taken responsibility for the intelligence failure that allowed the Hamas attack to happen.
“As the one who is at the head of the organisation, the responsibility for this is on me,” he wrote to Shin Bet staff and their families. “There will be time for investigations. Now we are fighting.”
Mossad director David Barnea speaks during a Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) (Photo: Flash 90)
Barnea has been director of the Mossad foreign intelligence agency since 2021. “The Mossad during his term has been credited with thwarting terror attacks against Jews in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere,” the Jerusalem Post noted earlier this year. But Barnea has also played a key role behind the scenes in negotiating a peace deal with Saudi Arabia.
Last weekend he flew to Qatar to try to broker a deal to release the Israeli hostages in Gaza.
Zamar is director-general of the defence ministry. He is a former deputy chief of staff and a retired major general.
He led Southern Command during the period when Hamas launched the Great Return March in 2018. He was also Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s military secretary.
Maj-Gen Yaron Finkelman
Finkelman is head of Southern Command. He came up through the paratroopers, and later led the Givati brigade and the 98th Division. He has said the coming operation in Gaza will be prolonged. “Now, our manoeuvres are going to take the war into their territory. It’s going to be long, it’s going to be intense, the best commanders and soldiers are here.”
Brig-Gen Avi Rosenfeld
Rosenfeld is commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division. He took up his position in 2022. Hamas attacked his headquarters on October 7 and the IDF even had to dispel rumours he had been captured.
In fact, he was in the base’s underground war room trying to organise the defence of the sector while many of his soldiers were killed or wounded outside.