GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant, who has recently been implicated in a plot to launch a PR campaign in efforts to secure the position of Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, sent a letter to current IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi denying any connection to the allegations and expressing "shock" at the media reports of the affair.
According to a document, aired on Channel 2 television on Friday, Galant hired leading Israeli PR consultant Eyal Arad's firm to spearhead a campaign to help him secure the post while taking several subversive steps against his competitors.
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced on Sunday the launch of a criminal investigation into the authenticity of the leaked document. The investigation was launched at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Strategist Eyal Arad, the president of the PR firm, denied having composed the document and rejected the allegations that his company had anything to do with it.
Weinstein declared Sunday that the IDF chief of staff post will not be manned until the matter of the document is resolved.
"In light of the obvious sensitivity of the complaint and its potential ramifications, the attorney general has asked that the investigation be carried out with the utmost speed," Weinstein's office said in a statement.
"The attorney general has informed the defense minister that there is no legal reason to halt consultations and interviews ahead of the chief of staff appointment, but in light of the circumstances and possible ramifications, it will not be possible for now to make a decision regarding the identity of the next chief of staff until the complaint is resolved," the statement said.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that the authenticity of the document can, and must be determined, adding that whoever is behind the document must be exposed. His office said that he had advised Netanyahu to urge the attorney general to launch the investigation.
Also on Sunday, Ashkenazi responded for the first time to the leak of the document, saying that the affair was "severe and demands inquiry and clarification."
"Ashkenazi is sorry that the important procedure of appointing an IDF chief has been infiltrated by topics and actions that could seriously harm the IDF and the public's trust of it," a statement released by the IDF spokesperson's office said.
Ashkenazi said in the statement that the IDF would fully cooperate "with any decision regarding an investigation," and added that he "hopes the truth will be revealed as soon as possible, so that the suspicions won't leave a mark on candidates, officers and citizens."
On Sunday morning, Arad filed a police complaint stating that the a document was forged.
"That document was not written by me, or by any of my business partners or associates," Arad told Israel Radio after filing the complaint. "If I had written the document and then approached the police then I would have exposed myself to criminal prosecution. Do you think a rational person would endanger himself with imprisonment in order to get rid of a problem relating to one's image?"
Galant would have to drop out of the race for chief of staff if the document aired by Channel 2 news supporting this assertion is genuine, and Arad's firm did plan to cause a rift between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Ashkenazi.
Arad has invited the authorities to check the computers in his office to show that he has no connection to the document.
"I did meet Yoav during the period he was in [Ariel] Sharon's bureau," Arad told Haaretz on Saturday. "But I have not met him since then and have spoken to him only a few times over the phone."
People who have spoken with Galant say he is shocked at what he describes as a crude fabrication against him and that he has no connection to Arad.
The document cites the need to develop an "insult effect" against Ashkenazi following the announcement of the round of interviews with candidates for chief of staff. The document also cites the need to sharpen disagreements between Ashkenazi and Galant over Operation Cast Lead - the Gaza offensive in the winter of 2008-09.
It was also suggested that Galant be portrayed more positively in terms of "humanity, maturity, experience and command." The document also suggested creating a negative campaign against Deputy Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who is also in the running to replace Ashkenazi.
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