Benny Gantz Takes over as IDF Chief of Staff

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz was sworn in on Monday as the 20th chief of general staff of the Israel Defense Forces.

The day's events began at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, where the incoming chief of staff was promoted from major general to lieutenant general.

Gantz, 51, thanked outgoing Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who is retiring from the IDF after 40 years of service.

"You rehabilitated the IDF at a difficult time," he said. "You are handing me and the IDF commanders a strong, determined, disciplined, professional and alert army for continued development and nurturing."

Gantz also acknowledged Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, whose appointment was rescinded following allegations of inappropriate land acquisitions near his home on Moshav Amikam.

"I would like to thank Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant for his long and dedicated service in the IDF and for the State of Israel. Yoav and I have spoken, and I believe we will be able to work together for the future as much as it takes," he said.

Gantz concluded by remembering soldiers who lost their lives defending the Jewish state.

"More than anything, I am accompanied today by the memory of all of the IDF's fallen soldiers. My friends who fell and their family members, [kidnapped soldier] Gilad Shalit and all the missing soldiers whose return we seek," the new chief of staff said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Gantz he had "all the skills to succeed" in leading the IDF in the unchartered waters of tumultuous times.

"An earthquake is rocking the Arab and Muslim world," Netanyahu said, "and we still don't know how things will end. Those who wish to destroy us are still here, and so are we," the prime minister said.

"We are strong because the IDF is strong. There is no one who understands this context better than you, Benny," Netanyahu said.

Ashkenazi told his successor, "We tried to rebuild the trust of the compulsory and reserve soldiers in the system."

The outgoing chief of staff assumed the top spot when then-Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz resigned following the publication of the Winograd Commission's Report in January 2007, which evaluated Israel's handling of the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. Ashkenazi's first task was to apply the lessons learned from that war.

"Together we all took part in a war that changed its look, a war that turned the home front into the front and the residents into fighters," he said, referring to the 4,000 missiles fired by Lebanese terrorists in Lebanon, which bombarded northern Israel during the 34-day war.

Ashkenazi also addressed Galant, acknowledging what he may have been feeling as an onlooker.

"I really regret what happened. Yoav, you didn't deserve it. Unfortunately, I had no control over the circumstances," Ashkenazi said.

Following the ceremony, Gantz and Askenazi prayed together at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City before traveling to the Kirya Base in Tel Aviv, where Gantz reviewed the honor guard and toasted Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

"Our surroundings are changing very fast," Barak said. "Things don't remain stagnant, and we are in the middle of a difficult period, both in the face of the outside challenges and in the face of what we have gone through internally," the defense minister said.

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