A few hours after the brutal attack on Israel's southern settlements by terrorist organization Hamas, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, head of the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, appeared on our television screens. He was the first Israeli official to explain to a shocked public what was happening, and where Israel was headed.
Since then, Hagari has held a daily media briefing, published updates throughout the day, released clarifications on social networks, and made television appearances to rebut or confirm versions of events in the rapidly unfolding reality that has been forced upon on us. In these media appearances, Hagari describes to the public and the media the situation in the field and operations carried out by the IDF, and also answers the many questions from the public and journalists. In fact, so far, he has been the only official Israeli representative to do so.
Thus far, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not met the press, nor have any other government ministers -- and the public has noticed. "The most reassuring figure in the war is undoubtedly the IDF spokesman. Clear, concise and to the point, answering journalists' questions without evasion, giving all the necessary information," tweeted one user on X (formerly Twitter). Another user wrote, "IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari is an honest, credible person who brings honor to the IDF!". Similar comments were also posted on the other social networks: "[I have] only good words to say about the IDF spokesman. He is determined, cool-headed, wise, sincere, empathetic, accurate, and trustworthy. In the initially hopeless conditions of loss of confidence, he has been the only serious official figure to talk to us."
These are just a few examples of the many posts on social networks these days about the head of the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, who, over the past couple of weeks, has become, for many, the "responsible adult," to whom everyone looks for the next update.
Rear Admiral Hagari was appointed IDF spokesman only at the beginning of this year. Before that, for about three decades, he served in a variety of operational field positions, including the naval special operations unit, Shayetet 13. Despite an accomplished career, until two weeks ago, he was unknown to most of the Israeli public. So how did Hagari become the face of the war overnight?
The only spokesperson to answer the public's questions
Daniel Hagari (47) enlisted in Israel Navy commando unit Shayetet 13 on March 13, 1995. Upon completing officer training, he was appointed a platoon commander serving, among other things, in Operation Defensive Shield during the second intifada. He later served as deputy commander of the Reconnaissance Battalion 934 (Gadsar Nahal, the special forces unit of the Nahal Brigade), and then appointed a deputy company commander in Shayetet 13.
In 2013, Hagari left the field when he was appointed head of then-Chief of Staff Benny Gantz's office, and later became head of the Israeli Navy's operations directorate. In May 2017, he was appointed assistant to then-Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, and in July 2019, named commander of Shayetet 13. For the operations of Shayetet 13 under his command, he was awarded the Chief of Staff Medal of Appreciation, the Chief of Staff's award for outstanding units, and the Chief of Staff's citation. Later in his service, he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, in 2021 he became head of operations in the Israeli Navy.
Hagari was appointed to the IDF Spokesperson's Unit on March 29, 2023, and has served through several operations ("Operation Home and Garden", " Operation Shield and Arrow" and now the "Swords of Iron" war). In the current campaign, Hagari has become, in the eyes of many, a key figure in Israeli advocacy. "In situations of war, tension and crisis, the eyes of the Israeli public are on the IDF, and not on the politicians," says former IDF spokesman Brigadier General Avraham "Avi" Benayahu. "The public perceives the army as a powerful entity that will lead to victory in the war, and its spokesperson has the most authoritative, most reliable information. The public knows this information is held by army, which acts out of professional, not political, considerations. Therefore, Israelis will always listen people in uniform and trust them more than any politician.
"Hagari projects authority, credibility, and confidence to the public, and he is the only one in the country who is answering questions these days. Journalists and the public have many questions, but the prime minister and the minister of defense are not answering them. In fact, no one has been answering questions aside from the IDF spokesperson, That's why sympathy for him among the public and the media is growing, and righty so." Senior IDF officers add that Hagari "conveys authenticity to the public. He is not disconnected, not distant, and not a stirrer. He doesn't bluff. He's not sophisticated and that's to his advantage, even though that's not easy in the media world".
Cabinet connections cover for inexperience
Hagari, married and the father of four, graduated with a BA in philosophy and an MA in diplomacy and security studies from Tel Aviv University. His friends and acquaintances describe him as humble, attentive, steady, level-headed, and composed. "Hagari is a professional and effective officer. He knows how to assess a situation on land just as well as at sea," says one officer who worked alongside him.
Among the positions he has held, Hagari worked closely with two different Chiefs of Staff, Gantz and Eisenkot. His associates describe these posts as those that shaped his later service, and in particular his term as IDF spokesman today. "The title, 'Aide to the Chief of Staff,' sounds like a minister's assistant, but it isn't really that," says one of Hagari's associates. "This is the person who coordinates the relationship between the chief of staff and the army and the outside world, largely managing the IDF spokesperson, and the relationship with the public, and is the contact person with the outside world, and the politicians."
IDF sources say that the fact that Hagari worked with Gantz and Eisenkot -- both members of the security cabinet today -- strengthens his position vis-à-vis the politicians echelon in the current Gaza campaign. A senior military source says, "Although he was a combat officer, he served three years in the Office of the Chief of Staff, and gained many skills and the right connections. He is very connected. After all, the two chiefs of staff he worked with are members of the cabinet."
These connections, according to sources familiar with Hagari's past, are the ones that helped him reach his position today. "Hagari is ambitious and very much a politician, even though it's claimed he is not," says an IDF source. "He has no communications experience, he doesn't understand advocacy, but he is an insider, and that's why he was chosen for the position. Throughout his career, he's known how to make the right connections. This may be a point to his credit, but it doesn't make him a good spokesman."
Military past becomes advocacy advantage
Hagari's operational experience plays a role not only on the political level, but on the military level as well. IDF sources call him "one of our own", and add: "His operational background and the legitimacy he has within the army allows him more room for maneuver than previous IDF spokespersons. He can obtain classified materials, and make use of them with the media. For example, the disclosure he made of a recorded conversation between two Hamas operatives after the explosion at the hospital." According to the source, "Hagari gave the public a glimpse of content that other IDF spokespersons couldn't when they were in that position. When he says 'I need it', the army higher-ups trust his judgment, because he is one of their own."
Gaby Portnoy, head of the Israel National Cyber Directorate, who held several senior intelligence positions in the IDF, has worked with Hagari on several occasions. He also believes that Hagari's military experience in the field is a significant advantage: "He broadcasts to the public, 'Here's someone who knows what he's talking about.' He can look them straight in the eye, both because of his professional and performance record, and also because he has a very broad familiarity with all of the systems in the IDF, and the army's relationship with the government.
"At a time like this, when the public really needs something to cling to, Hagari hasn't become a lifeline just by chance. He is frank, and the public knows he is telling the truth. He doesn't whitewash, and he takes responsibility. He also understands the public mindset, and he understands his responsibility to the damaged national morale -- even though the IDF Spokesperson's Unit is not at all responsible for this. Hagari understands that, in these difficult days, it's part of his job."
Critics claim: Hagari slow to react
Hagari does receive a great deal of praise from his acquaintances and the people he has worked with in his military career. However, there are those who find flaws in his manner as IDF spokesperson. Sources tell "Globes" that he recites his talking points in a cold and mechanical fashion, and in many cases the points are wrong. "Hagari stands out because of the information vacuum created here in Israel, and a situation in which there is no one else speaking to the Israeli public," says a senior military source. "He's not really outstanding, he's simply the only one there. The fact that he reads off talking points, and doesn't speak naturally makes many people perceive him as inauthentic." Adds one advocacy and communications expert, "Hagari does not present well. He reads from a text, doesn't maintain eye contact, and you can see that he has no experience before the camera, or in advocacy in general."
Hagari's critics also claim that, under his leadership, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit is reacting too slowly to events in the current campaign. "The first two days were a catastrophe for the Spokesperson's Unit," says a senior IDF officer. "The event started at 06:00 and the first time we saw the IDF spokesman was a wan appearance only at 12:00. That's 6-7 dramatic hours since the event began. The same thing happened after the explosion at the hospital. It took the IDF spokesman a very long time to respond, and in the meantime, the narrative around the world was that Israel had bombed a hospital. Hagari held a press conference and explained the event to the world, but it was too late."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 24, 2023.
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.