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October 26, 2018 2:31 pm

Helicopter Tour of Israel’s Borders Root of Bond Between Haley and IDF Chief of Staff Nominee

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Analysis

IDF Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. Photo: US Mission to the UN.

In an unusual move on Friday morning, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted her congratulations to an IDF general on his selection by Israel’s defense minister to serve as the next chief of staff of the military

Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the current IDF deputy chief of staff who has held various other senior positions in the army, will now need to be approved by a vetting committee and the government before he assumes the role.

Explaining Haley’s interest in the appointment, an official at the US Mission to the UN told The Algemeiner on Friday of a personal connection the two had formed during Haley’s first visit to Israel last June. During the trip, the general was assigned as Haley’s chaperone and took the ambassador on a strategic aerial tour of Israel’s borders, pointing out the Jewish state’s geographic vulnerabilities.

“Gen. Kochavi’s helicopter tour gave Ambassador Haley first-hand exposure to the threats Israel faces from one end of the country to the other,” the official said. “She was greatly impressed by his knowledge and experience.”

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Reports at the time of the trip also noted that Haley had witnessed a heated exchange between Kochavi and the commander of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. After the Second Lebanon War in 2006, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 had tasked the force with ensuring that the south Lebanon region bordering Israel would be free of armed terror groups.

“Haley was being briefed by UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, who told her the situation on the border was stable and did not require further intervention,” The Times of Israel reported at the time. “Beary was interrupted by Kochavi, who told Haley that UNIFIL was not doing its jobs properly and was wary of entering the villages and cities of southern Lebanon and confronting the Hezbollah terror group.”

An Israeli diplomat later apologized for Kochavi’s outburst, but Haley reportedly said she had appreciated the opportunity to see the Israeli perspective on UNIFIL first hand and that it would impact her work on the issue at the UN.

That September, Haley praised a Security Council resolution which added measures to enhance the mandate of the force in Lebanon and strongly criticized its general inadequacy.

In an op-ed for The Algemeiner, Haley wrote, “for too long, the peacekeeping force has been utterly failing at achieving this fundamental part of its mandate. Some of its leaders do not even acknowledge that there’s a problem. … UNIFIL has been given great authority to prevent Hezbollah’s illegal and hostile activity. The problem is, it hasn’t been using it. It has developed a kind of ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ mentality.”

The interactions between Haley, who is widely assumed to have presidential ambitions, and Kochavi, who is also on the ascent, are eerily similar to an early relationship that was formed between ex-US President George W. Bush and the late former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In 1998, Bush visited Israel as governor of Texas and was given a similar helicopter tour to the one Haley experienced by then-Foreign Minister Sharon.

When Bush later visited Israel as president in 2008, he recalled of the trip, “one of the great ironies of that trip was that I was on a helicopter tour of the West Bank with Ariel Sharon. You know, life works in funny ways. I had just finished a reelection campaign in Texas, and there was a lot of pressure and a lot of talk about me running for president. But I don’t think either of us would have guessed that both of us would have been serving in our respective offices in a defining moment in history.”

Bush continued, “I can remember so well Prime Minister Sharon pointing to a hill, and he said, this is where I engaged, as a young tank officer, my first battle, and see how far it is to our capital and our civilization. In other words, it was — his purpose was to make it clear to me the strategic issues facing Israel. And then we flew over the West Bank, and it was a fascinating moment.”

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