Serving Winnipeg's Jewish Community Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn Youtube

Gabi Ashkenazi
By MYRON LOVE
General (Retd.) Gabi Ashkenazi has had a long and distinguished career with the Israel Defence Force (IDF).

He began his service with the IDF in 1972 and fought in the Yom Kippur War. He has been a battalion commander, Commander of the Golani Brigade, head of Intelligence for the Northern Command, chief of Israel’s civil administration in Lebanon and chief of the General Staff’s Operations Directorate. In 1998, Ashkenazi was appointed head of the Israeli Northern Command, a position that would make him responsible for Israel’s withdrawal from its Security Zone in Southern Lebanon.
As IDF Deputy Chief of Staff in 2002, he was in charge of building the security barrier. During the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict, Ashkenazi served as the Ministry of Defense’s Director-General. He became Chief of Staff on February 14, 2007.
 On Thursday, June 7, the retired general was in Winnipeg - as part of a cross-Canada tour organized by the Jewish Federations of Canada – to provide an update on Israel’s security situation. And, speaking to an audience of about 100 at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, he reassured his listeners that Israel is in a good place these days.
“Israel faces no existential threats,” he said. “We have a strong military.”
 He noted that Egypt’s biggest concern is how to feed its 90 million people. Israel’s eastern border with Jordan has been quiet for years as has the northern border with Lebanon since Israel’s last war with Lebanon. And Syria is in chaos.
“Our only real challenge is from Iran,” he noted. “And the only real potential threat from Iran is a nuclear bomb.”
He reiterated Israel’s determination to keep the pressure on Iranian forces in Syria (which has consisted of strategic bombing of Iranian missile shipments and arms transfers to Hezbollah as well as Iranian bases), and to take military action if necessary to prevent Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons.
“All military options are on the table,” he said.
On the positive side, Ashkenzai spoke about Israel’s improved relations with many Arab states which are also concerned about Iranian expansion and potential American retrenchment. “There is a lot going on behind the scenes,” he reported.
Turning to the issue of cybersecurity, he observed that not many people are aware of the scope of the potential problems. “This is the first time in history that one individual can wield such destructive force,” he said. “One guy with a computer and a disk can do as much damage as the 9-11 attackers. The world isn’t ready for this.
 “Israel has made combating cybersecurity threats one of our top priorities. We have more than 400 companies in Israel involved in cybersecurity research.”
The positive in this research, he added, is that it provides a lot of opportunities for Israeli youth.
With that, he segued briefly into the work of the Rashi Foundation of which Ashkenazi currently is Chairman of the Board.
(The Rashi Foundation is a 30-some year old private philanthropic foundation dedicated to assisting the underprivileged in Israel, particularly children and youth. The organization focuses on the geographic and social periphery and on education and welfare solutions that create opportunities and advance social mobility.
 As noted on the Rashi Foundation webpage, “cyber technology is a main growth engine as well as a key element in Israel’s national security, but remaining a leader in this field depends on increasing the pool of highly-skilled cyber experts. The Magshimim cyber education initiative has demonstrated that this can be done by tapping the potential of high school students in the periphery. In order to support its growth, the next critical step is to establish a central resource center for cyber education in Israel.”)
 Finally, he spoke about his parents – originally poor immigrants from Aleppo in Syria. “My mother, who is still alive, is amazed at how much Israel has accomplished in 70 years,” he said. “Israel has grown beyond her wildest dreams.”

 Ashkenazi spent a few minutes fielding questions from his listeners. He was first asked about ongoing military co-ordination between Israel and Russia in Syria.
 “Putin is not our ally,” he emphatically declared. “But we have mechanisms in place that leaves us to act freely (against Iran and Hezbollah) in Syria as long as we don’t target Russian bases. There is no danger from Russia. We both know our boundaries.” He was asked about the Americans pulling out of the previous administration’s verbal agreement with Iran. “Bibi is very happy,” he commented.
The view among Israeli professionals is mixed about the Iran deal, he added. “The good part of the deal was that Iran had stopped all processing over the last couple of years,” he noted. “On the other hand, the inspections weren’t serious. And with our prime minister exposing the Iranian nuclear archives, we saw that the Iranians have the knowledge and expertise to be back up to speed in just a few months.”
He was asked about the potential for regime change in Iran. “We know that there is unrest,” he answered. “Iran has a young society. Most Iranians want to be like us. They are unhappy with the mullahs. We don’t know if the people are strong enough to beat the regime with its police, security forces and Revolutionary Guard. Many Iranians have been arrested, tortured and made to disappear.”
Gabi Ashkenazi was introduced by Yossi Tanuri, director general in Israel for Jewish Federations of Canada.
Also addressing the Shaarey Zedek audience was Gray Academy Grade 11 student Gilad Stitz, who spoke about his participation in the annual P2G exchange program between Gray Academy students and students attending Danciger High school in Kiryat Shemona in northern Israel. Ten Danciger students were here in October and Stitz was one of 15 Gray students who travelled to Israel in the spring.
“It was the greatest experience of my life,” Stitz recounted. “I learned what it means to be a Jew in our Jewish homeland. There is no greater feeling than being part of something bigger than you are. It was incredible to be in a place where even non-Jews understand Judaism.”

Add comment


Security code
Refresh