State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss maintained an uncharacteristic silence when he gave Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein the results of his probe into Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff-designate Yoav Galant on Wednesday. Journalists were told the report, which investigated alleged improprieties in Galant’s use of land near his home, lacked a bottom line.
It contained harsh criticism of Galant’s conduct, but left Weinstein to decide for himself whether to defend the appointment before the High Court of Justice.
By leaving a media vacuum, Lindenstrauss made a blunder in public relations, a discipline in which he normally excels. The void was exploited by Galant’s supporters, who implied that the appointment was now assured. In the absence of a clear recommendation from the comptroller, nothing bars Galant from taking office, they argued.
You don’t rescind the appointment of an IDF chief of staff two weeks before he is to start work over bureaucratic irregularities.
But then Lindenstrauss tossed his own bombshell. A statement issued by his spokesman at 4 P.M. yesterday contained five points. Galant trespassed on land that was not his. He delayed removing trees he had planted. He made improper use of public property and provided erroneous information to the authorities.
Finally, there are suspicions that various agencies went beyond the letter of the law due to his prominent status.
The fourth point is the key. Lindenstrauss cited two instances in which he said Galant misled the authorities − in an affidavit to the court and in a letter to the Israel Lands Administration.
Over the past two weeks, Galant’s lawyers have contended that the state comptroller would not accuse their client of lying or providing a false affidavit. Lindenstrauss did not explicitly use the word “lie,” but anyone reading his office’s statement would understand that’s what he meant.
Given Lindenstrauss’ harsh findings, it is difficult to see how Weinstein could defend Galant’s appointment before the High Court or how Galant could take office as chief of staff.
Lindenstrauss may not have hanged Galant, but he did erect the gallows.
180-degree turn in under an hour
Among the IDF General Staff, prevailing opinion over Galant’s prospects for the top job underwent a 180-degree change in less than an hour. In the public’s eyes, Galant has now almost officially been branded a liar. That’s a stain it will be very difficult to remove.
Based on his character, however, Galant can be expected to fight virtually up to the last moment, and then leave with a reverberating slam of the door if he is disqualified as chief of staff. We must therefore hope that one of his advisers will be level-headed enough to tell Galant the truth. This sorry affair has gone one step too far, and it would be better to put an end to it.
And what does Defense Minister Ehud Barak think? He wasn’t talking to the media. But a whisper from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office suggested that Galant be given the chance to withdraw his own candidacy.
Yet even more than Lindenstrauss’ conclusions cast a shadow on Galant and those who approved his appointment (the Turkel Committee and the cabinet), they cast a pall over the already compromised status of Barak.
If the appointment of a new chief of staff becomes necessary, Barak will have to conduct a proper selection process this time. Surprisingly, however, the names being floated in Barak’s circles are reserve major generals rather than Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot, who lost out to Galant in the current round.
It appears that Netanyahu will also have to be more involved next time around.
The story’s bottom line, however, is that in some respects, the IDF is facing a crisis no less serious than the one it faced in the Second Lebanon War. That was a professional crisis. This, in contrast, is a deep crisis of values that has implications for the functioning of the entire military-security leadership, as well as its status in the eyes of the public.
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