Gabi Ashkenazi is an Israeli soldier and former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces.
Ashkenazi was born on February 25, 1954, and grew up in Hagor, a moshav in central Israel. His father, a Holocaust survivor, immigrated to Israel from Bulgaria, while his mother, Freda Ashkenazi (née Jamal), immigrated from Syria.
Ashkenazi completed high school at a military boarding school affiliated with the prestigious Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv. He also studied at the Tel Aviv Junior Command Preparatory School and the U.S. Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Haifa and, in 2004, attended the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.
He began his military service in the Golani Infantry Brigade in 1972 and served in the Sinai Peninsula during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In July 1976, he was a platoon leader in Operation Entebbe to rescue kidnapped Israeli hostages held in Uganda. He first served in Lebanon in 1978, during Operation Litani. During the 1982 Lebanon War, Ashkenazi served as Deputy Commander of the Golani Brigade and was promoted to Commander in 1986.
In 1988, Ashkenazi was appointed head of Intelligence for the Northern Command. In the early 1990s, he commanded a reserve armor division and then went on to serve as head of Israel’s Lebanon liaison unit. In 1994, he was promoted to Chief of the General Staff’s Operations Division. In 1996, he was promoted to the rank of Major General and to the position of Aide to Chief of the Operations Branch. In 1998 he was appointed GOC Northern Command, a position in which he oversaw Israel’s withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon, bringing to an end Israel’s 18-year presence there.
Appointed IDF Deputy Chief of Staff in 2002, Ashkenazi was in charge of the construction of the West Bank security fence, erected to prevent terrorist attacks within Israel. He resigned from the IDF in May 2005 when Dan Halutz was appointed IDF Chief of Staff by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. As a result of the decision, Ashkenazi retired from the IDF, leaving in “enormous pain and disappointment.” He then became a partner in a security consultancy company based in Tel Aviv.
One year later, Defense Minister Amir Peretz brought Ashkenazi back to the military to serve as the Ministry of Defense’s Director-General. In early 2007, Ashkenazi reenlisted in the IDF, was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General, and was appointed Chief of Staff. During his tenure, Ashkenazi restored the IDF’s operative capacity in the wake of the Second Lebanon War and led the IDF through a series of campaigns, including “Operation Hot Winter,” and “Operation Cast Lead,” as well as the decisive strike on Syria’s nuclear reactor in September 2007.
In December 2007, Ashkenazi met with Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, the first time in ten years that an Israeli chief of staff met with his U.S. counterpart. While on visit in the United States in July 2008, Mullen gave Ashkenazi the Legion of Merit military decoration with the Commander rank.
Ashkenazi retired from the IDF in 2011 and was appointed chairman of Shemen Oil and Gas Explorations Ltd., an Israeli company engaged in hydrocarbon exploration. A year later, he was appointed, in a voluntary capacity, as chairman of one of Israel’s leading nonprofit organizations, the Rashi Foundation. The Rashi Foundation works to foster education and welfare solutions that enable upward mobility for young people in Israel’s social and geographic periphery.
In February 2019, the Israel Resilience Party and the Yesh Atid Party agreed to join forces and run on a joint ticket called Blue and White. Ashkenazi joined the party and, following the March 2020 election, was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs as a part of the Thirty-fifth government of Israel.
He is married and has two children.
Photo: Public Domain.