Aluf (Hebrew: אלוף, lit. "champion") is the term used in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for officers who in other countries would have the rank of general, air marshal, or admiral. In addition to the aluf rank itself, there are four other ranks which are derivatives of the word. Together, they constitute the five highest ranks in the IDF.
Aside from being a military rank, "Aluf" is used is a civilian context, particularly of sport, meaning "champion".
The term aluf comes from the Bible (אַלּוּף ’allūp̄): the Edomites used it as a rank of nobility, while the later books of the Tanakh use it to describe Israelite captains as well, e.g. Zachariah 9:7, 12:5-6, and later, for example Psalms 55:13, where it is used as a general term for teacher. It comes from a Semitic root meaning "thousand", making an ’allūp̄ the one who commands a thousand people. Strong however connects the word used to describe the Dukes of Edom, to a different root "alf" denoting a teacher and the root for the animal 'ox' from which the letter Aleph itself is derived, rather than eleph thousand, however they both comprise the same 3 letters.
Rank order of aluf and its derivatives
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is an integrated force, ranks are the same in all services. It has a slightly compacted rank structure; for instance, the Chief of Staff (Ramatkal) is seemingly only equivalent to a lieutenant general (NATO OF-8) in other militaries. Rav aluf means 'arch-general', which would be equal to a field marshal or five star general in other armies and equivalent to OF-10.
- Rav aluf (Hebrew: רב-אלוף): the highest rank in IDF (Chief of the General Staff rank), literally "arch-aluf", lieutenant general
- Aluf: major general (arms, branches, and regional commands)
- Tat aluf (Hebrew: תת-אלוף), literally "sub-aluf": brigadier general (divisional and corps-level)
- Aluf mishne (Hebrew: אלוף-משנה), literally "secondary-aluf": colonel (brigade-level)
- Sgan aluf (Hebrew: סגן-אלוף), literally "vice-aluf": lieutenant colonel (battalion-level)
|Israel Defense Forces ranks: קצינים בכירים senior officers or field grade officers|
|Major||Lieutenant colonel||Colonel or brigadier||Brigadier general||Major general||Lieutenant general|
|More details at Israel Defense Forces ranks & IDF 2012 - Ranks (idf.il, english)|
Rav aluf is usually translated as "lieutenant general", although it is the most senior rank in the IDF. The rank is given only to the Chief of General Staff (Ramatkal), so there can only be one active rav aluf under regular circumstances. However this could change in a time of war. During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, retired Rav Aluf Haim Bar-Lev was recalled up into service, replacing Shmuel Gonen as the commander of the southern theater. Thus, along with chief of the general staff David Elazar (who had succeeded Bar-Lev in that position the previous year), there were two people in active service holding the rank of rav aluf simultaneously.
Israel is essentially a land and air power, with the navy receiving less than five percent of the military budget. The three forces have the same ranks, although separate naval ranks were used for a short time in the 1950s; an officer who would be a general, air marshal, or admiral elsewhere is an aluf in any of the Israeli forces.
The non-Hebrew word "general" was also adopted into Hebrew (גנרל), and is used to refer to the generals of foreign armies. It can also be used colloquially in reference to a senior Israeli officer, in a derogatory sense implying that the officer in question is over-officious, incompetent, or involved in internecine power struggles with other officers, sometimes referred to as the "war of the generals" (Hebrew: "מלחמת הגנרלים"), to the neglect of proper military duties. For example, in a speech made by the former Israeli Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz, he criticized two other party members who both hold the rank of (retired) aluf: former Vice-Chief of General Staff, Aluf Matan Vilnai and former Commander of the Israeli Navy, Aluf Ami Ayalon, referring to them (and other former senior officers of the IDF) as "the generals and admirals":
"I look around me, and hear the voices, I look and I don't believe. Whenever a party does not win the status of a ruling party, the most respectable post is the Defense Ministry. And I hear the generals, and the admirals say: 'Why the Defense Ministry?' I hear the voices, and I am happy with myself, because this means we succeeded in changing the agenda in the State of Israel. The revolution is that a social general is no longer ruled out from being a minister of defense, and our generals yearn to deal with social issues."