Brigadier General Roman Gofman was recently appointed as the Military Secretary to the Prime Minister by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Before that, he served in a temporary role on the IDF General Staff, a position related to operations in Gaza.

Originally from Mozyr, Belarus, Gofman is the first from the significant wave of immigration to achieve the rank of brigadier general. He has led the 7th Armored Brigade, "Saar me-Golan," and the 210th Territorial Division, "Bashan," stationed in the Golan Heights.

On October 7, 2023, while serving as the commander of the Army Combat Training Center, Gofman traveled to Sderot to participate in the defense against the Hamas attack on Israel. He was seriously injured in battle.

Interview by Pavel Vigdorchik.

Can you share your experience from October 7?

Just days before Simchat Torah, as the workday ended, I received a call from a comrade in Gush Etzion, where I once commanded the Etzion Brigade. That experience significantly shaped me as both a person and a leader. He invited me to speak to teenagers in his sukkah on the Thursday before the holiday.

I arrived that evening to find over a hundred teenagers and adults gathered in a large sukkah. Deciding where to begin, I chose to share my experiences from when I was a brigade commander in Gush Etzion, visiting schools during a period rife with knife and car bomb attacks at the Gush Etzion intersection. What shocked me in those discussions years ago was when I asked the students what hindered them, they didn’t mention the security situation but expressed a feeling of living in a less significant era compared to the times of the Maccabees or Bar Kokhba. This deeply resonated with me—I hadn't felt that way at their age. I argued with them, trying to convince them of the significance of our own times.

In the sukkah, I reiterated to my listeners: “We were born in an important era.” Little did I know how prophetic those words would soon become. Just days later, on the holiday of Simchat Torah, I woke up to sirens in Ashdod. After a brief conversation with the Southern District headquarters, I realized the gravity of the situation and headed to the Gaza division's headquarters. Avi Rosenfeld, the division commander and a friend, was someone I felt compelled to assist in any way possible. En route, I spoke with several police officers, tragically, many of whom would perish hours later. I also spoke with “Bazooka” (Yitzhak Bazukashvili), the commander at the Segev-Shalom site, who informed me that terrorists had infiltrated Sderot, Ofakim, and Netivot.

Deciding to go to Sderot, I arrived there around seven in the morning. The city had minimal forces, mostly police volunteers. The situation was unclear, but I was told there were casualties. We began to sweep the city from north to south and reached the Sapir College intersection without encountering any terrorists.

From there, we moved to the Sha'ar HaNegev intersection. The scene was chaotic, with several cars ablaze—clearly, a battlefield. Hearing gunshots and seeing people among the cars, I instructed my team to approach and determine whether they were terrorists or members of self-defense units.

Who was with you during the encounter?

My driver, Yogev, and several volunteers, mostly off-duty police officers, were with me. We drove another 400 meters, then exited the car and proceeded on foot. We managed to surprise a group dressed in black, with black helmets. However, it wasn't immediately clear if they were terrorists. From about a hundred meters away, I had doubts: "What if they are our own people?" I aimed at them, took my weapon off safety, shouted to them, and they responded in a mix of Hebrew and Arabic. Seeing their Kalashnikovs, I opened fire, and two were hit immediately. The battle ensued, with them using cars for cover. Seconds later, they began firing at me from the flank. I couldn't see the enemy but realized I was exposed and then got shot in the leg. I crawled back, noticing a bloodstain. The police with us provided cover while enemy RPGs were fired and we returned fire. We made it back to our car, and I began to lose consciousness. We attempted to stop the bleeding but lacked a tourniquet. Eventually, we found one in the city, and my team rushed me to Barzilai Medical Center.

I spent a month receiving treatment at Assaf Harofeh Hospital. My father, a doctor, took excellent care of me along with Dr. Igor Rabin, the head of the vascular surgery department. He is a true leader and a professional who helped me through the ordeal. A month later, I was at home on crutches, but my inner drive and determination to return to duty meant I didn’t stay there long. I am currently serving on the General Staff in a temporary role related to operations in Gaza.

Despite the severity of the situation, we have reasons to be proud. It's important to see the bigger picture and not just the initial shock and setbacks...

Did you feel defeated?

Yes, at that moment. After 12 hours, I opened my eyes and asked my wife Rina if there was a war. She nodded affirmatively and handed me the phone. As I began watching the videos, it was a sobering experience.

However, amidst the challenges, there are two points of pride. Firstly, we received a historic wake-up call. It felt more like the Kishinev pogrom than the typical Israeli wars. Despite the collapse of many institutional systems, a new system emerged from the grassroots - a system built by commanders, soldiers, civilians, intelligence officers, members of self-defense units, and people from all walks of life, including Jews and Bedouins. In a remarkably short time, they constructed a vast network that stemmed the tide. While terrorists dubbed it the "flood of al-Aqsa," there was indeed a flood, but not of the al-Aqsa variety.

This grassroots effort allowed the institutional system to regroup and stand tall again. It's rare in history to witness such rapid recovery and resilience after such a significant shock. This is our second point of pride. The younger generation, including young fighters, commanders, and reservists, organized themselves swiftly and bravely entered the fray in extremely challenging terrain. There's hardly any other place where an underground city was constructed beneath a major city, with the enemy exploiting its own population in the cruelest manner possible. Despite these conditions, we achieved remarkable success both in the north and in Khan Yunis, though challenges persist.

This marks a pivotal moment in history. Each of us must view ourselves through a historical lens, critically evaluating ourselves while taking pride in our surroundings. We must do what's essential for society and Israel. This ordeal serves as a reminder that we are in this for the long haul. We are not the Las Vegas of the Middle East. We anticipate at least a decade of struggle that will redefine Israel's security landscape.

Even when disaster struck during Simchat Torah, it took mere hours for us to stem the tide, recover from the shock, and launch a counteroffensive. Our work is not yet finished, not only in Gaza but also in the challenging situation in the north.

We'll return to the situation in the north later. Four years ago, during our previous conversation, we also discussed General Brik's report, which highlighted the army's lack of readiness for war. I recall your strong reaction to this report, almost taking it as a personal insult. Did the events of October 7 prompt a change in your perspective? Could it be that General Brik was correct, and we once again fell into complacency?

We all bear a responsibility in this regard. I, too, bear responsibility. It's incumbent upon me to adapt, to alter my worldview and understanding of reality as needed. We all must be willing to make necessary changes. I am confident that post-war, we will address these issues. In fact, we are already taking steps in that direction. I believe this is a task that pertains not only to the military but also to society as a whole. However, from my standpoint, it's primarily my responsibility, as well as the responsibility of each individual.

Do other generals share this perspective?

I am confident that within the army, there is a prevailing ethos of responsibility, particularly in terms of taking ownership and initiative. The sense of accountability for the outcome of battles rests squarely upon us, encompassing a broad spectrum of responsibilities. You may have observed that at the entrance to the Kiriya base, there is a quote from Ben Gurion: “Responsibility for the fate of Israel lies with the army.” This sentiment has been and will continue to be central to our ethos.

The war has been ongoing for six months now, and there's a sense that the operation is losing momentum. Is this the case?

First and foremost, it's important to recognize that we're engaged in a highly intricate operation, and we're executing it with remarkable skill at all levels – from political leadership to army command and individual units. It's an immense challenge. In protracted conflicts, especially in regions like Gaza, the military must adapt its tactics not only to counter the enemy's strategies but also to align with the nation's capabilities. We're witnessing this precise adaptation unfold, and it will ultimately lead us to victory and the achievement of our objectives.

From your perspective, what defines victory in this context?

The Chief of the General Staff has articulated it quite clearly: victory entails the dismantling of Hamas's military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, neutralizing its power structures, and securing the release of abducted individuals. Our overarching goal is to ensure that Gaza no longer poses a threat to the State of Israel in the future.

And are these goals achievable?

Yes, absolutely! These objectives may require time to accomplish, but they are within reach. They are substantial and ambitious, but as Ben Gurion famously remarked during the Revolutionary War, "Greatness of task leads to greatness of ability." This isn't just rhetoric; it's the reality of the situation.

Is the IDF prepared for a ground operation in Rafah? Can it effectively carry out the mission, especially considering the presence of civilians and international pressure?

We approach the forthcoming challenges with utmost seriousness. We do not underestimate the enemy or their capacity to adapt and improve, even in the face of significant setbacks. Additionally, we are deeply committed to addressing humanitarian concerns. All of this necessitates meticulous planning and thorough preparation. However, I am confident that the IDF, alongside the Southern District and both regular and reserve divisions operating in the area, have demonstrated their capability to execute their assigned tasks in Gaza City, Khan Yunis, and the camps in the central sector. They will be equally capable of doing so in Rafah.

At one point, as a battalion commander, you voiced concerns to Chief of the General Staff Gadi Eisenkot, suggesting that the IDF was hesitant to deploy ground units. How did you feel when the ground operation in Gaza commenced? It's been suggested that we haven't witnessed the deployment of maneuverable units on this scale since the First Lebanon War.

I am proud, and even exhilarated, that the General Staff and its chief made the correct decision in such a challenging circumstance. As I observed the maneuver unfold from my hospital bed, my pride and exhilaration only intensified.

We've previously discussed the situation in the north. Could we potentially face a similar surprise there as we did in the south, waking up to a barrage of missiles and a ground invasion?

It's crucial to recognize that it's our responsibility, as the IDF, to operate under the assumption that such a threat exists and to proactively identify vulnerabilities where we could be caught off guard. The military is undertaking comprehensive preparations, particularly as we apply the lessons learned from the events in the south to our operations in the north. The 36th Division, where I have served for many years, has transitioned from combat in the south to deployment in the north. This division is capable of reaching any location and addressing any challenge. I am fully confident that, if necessary, it will rise to the occasion on the northern front. And it's not just the 36th Division; this level of readiness permeates throughout the IDF. While the scenario you describe is unlikely, the primary focus of the IDF currently lies in preparing for any potential situation in the north.

Will the IDF merely react to events or take proactive measures?

Taking initiative is fundamental to our military doctrine. Since 1948 and even earlier, it has been ingrained in the DNA of our army and is a cornerstone of our operational mindset.

The conscription of yeshiva students is currently a significant issue under discussion. What is your stance on this matter? Does the IDF require their service?

The IDF is the people's army, and there is a place for everyone within it. Without delving into specifics, it's crucial that all segments of Israeli society, including various Jewish, Druze, Bedouin, and other minority groups, participate in military service. The IDF serves not only as Israel's defender, tasked with addressing threats to the state, but also as a unifying force that fosters and strengthens Israeli identity. This applies to both conscripts and reservists. From the moment you're drafted at 18 years old until your discharge—essentially lifelong service—there's a role for individuals of all ages. The IDF must maintain its unique position within Israeli society.

Let's delve into the diversity of Israeli society. Four years ago, you were the first brigadier general to represent the significant USSR Aliyah. However, today it would be more accurate to say that you are the sole brigadier general hailing from this large immigrant wave. Why is this the case?

That's a very pertinent question. While there are numerous Russian-speaking officers serving in lower ranks within the IDF, when we consider the scale of the immigrant influx, their representation at higher ranks is lacking. Perhaps this is also my responsibility—I may not have done everything necessary to address this issue. It's something I've been reflecting on a lot lately. I'd like to take this opportunity to appeal to Russian-speaking youth: the IDF offers an avenue for personal growth and fulfillment. Here, you can broaden your horizons, forge new friendships, and gain invaluable experiences. It's a place where you learn responsibility, leadership skills, and are exposed to limitless opportunities.

Where do you see the IDF in 20 years?


You are a spiritual person, and it's evident that you've undergone significant growth over the past six months. Can you share more about this journey?

Reflecting back to 1990 when I first arrived in Israel, I realize now that while my body was in Israel, my soul was not fully present. It wasn't until I found myself at pre-war courses in Ely as a company commander that I discovered a vast spiritual world—the Jewish world—that helped shape my Israeli identity.

In recent months, three factors have influenced this journey. Firstly, there was the initial shock followed by a transition from a sense of defeat to excitement, particularly when witnessing the resilience of the younger generation. As an IDF commander, I had invested heavily in these young individuals, and seeing them excel instilled a sense of pride and hope.

Secondly, there was the realization that I couldn't effect change externally until I underwent personal transformation. Only after taking this step could I begin to clear the fog and work towards achieving spiritual and cultural growth.

Lastly, my family played a crucial role, particularly the unwavering love and support from my wife and daughters. My wife remained by my side throughout the entire month of recovery, providing steadfast encouragement. Initially, I felt powerless, but eventually, I left the hospital standing on my own two feet. This experience fostered a deep sense of unity and shared destiny. These three elements have profoundly changed me as a person, and I'm curious to see where this journey will lead.

Where do you envision it taking you?

I'm still navigating that path.