Eizenkot grew up in the southern port city of Eilat, and studied at Goldwater High School, majoring in maritime studies. He received a B.A. in history from Tel Aviv University and attended the United States Army War College for a master's degree.
After being drafted to the Israel Defense Forces, he entered the Israeli Air Force’s pilot course, but was dropped from it after one month and joined the Golani Brigade and became its commander in 1997–98.
In 1999, Eizenkot was selected to be the Military Secretary for the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense under Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Since then he has commanded the 366th Division and the Judea and Samaria Division. He was promoted to head of Israeli Operations Directorate in June 2005. A year later, Eizenkot became head of the Northern Command.
In 2007, Eizenkot formulated the “Dahiya Doctrine.” It was named for the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut where Hezbollah command centers were located. During the Second Lebanon War, the IDF bombed large apartment buildings there. Basically, the idea was to cause similar damage throughout Lebanon in a future conflict. “What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on,” Eisenkot said at the time. “We will apply disproportionate force and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.”
Upon taking office he began to promote measures to strengthen the ground forces. He authored a multi-year plan to build up the IDF to prepare for a range of threats. Eizenkot believes that the ultimate test of military action is the ability to sustain long periods of peace and safety to allow the state to develop. That objective is accomplished through deterrence achieved through military strength and the use of force. If force is needed, he believes the goal should be to end the conflict in the shortest time.
After an upsurge of Hamas-directed violence from Gaza, some of which was an outgrowth of the “Great March of Return,” Eisenkot was criticized by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and other members of the government for not responding more harshly. Eisenkot favored a more moderate approach and the pursuit of a ceasefires. He also believed the IDF needed to remain focused on what he considered the more serious threat from Hezbollah.
Eisenkot was also given credit by some, and criticized by others, for doing more to integrate women in the IDF than his predecessors. For example, the Armored Corps received its first four female tank commanders, the Navy announced that the first female naval combat soldiers will serve on the new missile ships, the first woman was appointed to command an Israel Air Force squadron and another to command transport planes. He did, however, oppose allowing women to serve on the frontlines.
Eisenkot also provoked criticism from many Israelis when he supported the trial of an IDF soldier, Elor Azaria, who was ultimately convicted of manslaughter in 2017 for the shooting of a neutralized and unarmed terrorist in Hebron.
Just before his retirement, Eisenkot’s leadership came in for additional criticism when IDF Ombudsman Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick issued a report that said the military was not prepared for war. “The IDF is undergoing a process of deterioration that has reached its peak in recent years,” Brick warned. “In the past three years, a lethal encounter between drastic, unregulated and sometimes irresponsible cuts of thousands of career soldiers and… the [simultaneous] shortening of male service has created complete incompatibility and critical gaps.”
Eisenkot appointed a panel of ex-officers to review Brick’s report and independently investigate the ombudsman’s claims. They released a new report at the end of December 2018 that disputed Brick’s conclusion and concluded the IDF was prepared for a new ground war.
In 2016, Eizenkot was awarded the Commander of the Legion of Merit by his American counterpart, General Joseph Dunford, for “exceptionally meritorious service as chief of the General Staff of the IDF” and his “contribution to the strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel will have a lasting effect on both countries.”
In January 2019, Eisenkot retired after 40 years of service.
Ending speculation about his future, Eisenkot joined the new HaMahane HaMamlachti (The National Unity Party) Party in August 2022.
Eisenkot is married and the father of five children. He currently resides in Herzliya.
Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Gadi Eisenkot,” Wikipedia.
Yaakov Katz and Anna Ahronheim, “Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot - A look back,” Jerusalem Post, (January 11, 2019).
Carrie Keller-Lynn, “Ex-IDF chief Eisenkot, former Yamina minister Kahana join Gantz-led ‘National Unity,’” Times of Israel, (August 14, 2022).