Israeli leaders praised outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi at a ceremony Sunday night in which Ashkenazi stepped down and Major-General Benny Gantz assumed the position of senior military leader.
Among those who came to bid farewell and bless to Ashkenazi was also U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is spending two days in the MIddle East and will be holding talks with Ashkenazi and other leaders.
President Shimon Peres said, “Even after Gabi Ashkenazi became the people's commander, he never stopped being part of the people.”
“The soldiers loved you,” he told Ashkenazi. “The tools were upgraded, the army was trained, and terrorism had to take a break.”
Askenazi took over the helm of the IDF after severe crticism was leveled at the level of IDF planning, logistics and preparation in the Second Lebanon War. The Chief of Staff took it upon himself to effect thorough professional change and under his command, Operation Cast Lead showed a sharp change for the better in all three parameters, with the scope and goals of the operation subject to governmental decisions.
Even Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who had been noticeably antagonistic to Ashkenazi, had praise for him. “Gabi, thank you for your four decades of service, during which you consistently strengthened the IDF,” he said at the ceremony, and the two shook hands amicably.
“Under Gabi's watch the IDF conducted Cast Lead and other operations,” Barak said. “We had failures, but they were outweighed by the successes.” He later said, “This is a day for parting, not self-examination.”
Ashkenazi spoke as well, saying that he feels that he is leaving the IDF in excellent hands. He apologized for his mistakes, saying, “Like all humans, I am not free of error – but my errors stemmed from a real, honest desire to fulfill my duty and preserve the honor of the IDF.” He expressed his sorrow that Gilad Shalit was not freed during his years as IDF chief.
Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons in active IDF service, was one of the speakers who blessed Ashkenazi, saying he was a "father" to her bereaved family.
Later on, Ashkenazi told reporters how he is waiting to change into sports gear and begin to relax after the 24/7 decades of responsibility and dedication to the security of the Jewish state.