Yesterday's news that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will launch his own investigation into the Harpaz-Galant document affair sent shockwaves through a story that seemed all but buried. Lindenstrauss said that he will look into a long list of issues related to the case, in effect rendering irrelevant the committee which was formed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to probe the matter.
Meanwhile, Israel Radio yesterday revealed a letter of recommendation for Boaz Harpaz signed by Barak 10 years ago. Aides to Barak said that the letter does not contradict the minister's earlier statements that he does not personally know Harpaz.
Lindenstrauss announced his decision in a letter sent yesterday morning to Barak after he called on the comptroller to open an investigation last week. A copy of Lindenstrauss' letter was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.
The comptroller wrote to Barak that his office "has for many weeks been gathering information about all the relevant topics related to the 'Harpaz affair,' in order to formulate an opinion regarding the scope and essence of our probe."
Lindenstrauss has decided to focus the probe on a number of issues: "The entire range of Harpaz's activities and dealings in the defense establishment in a variety of areas, including arms trading and acquisitions, in addition to mutual ties with various officials in the defense establishment"; "the entire range of activities within the defense establishment as they relate to the Harpaz document, including the process of choosing a new chief of staff, with the exception of issues that are being examined in a criminal investigation or are being adjudicated."
The announcement is the most important development out of this story in quite some time.
The comptroller is outlining a broad mandate for himself. One may assume that Lindenstrauss is doing so on the basis of initial findings gathered by the head of the security division in his office, General (res. ) Ya'akov Or.
Not only will Lindenstrauss and Or deal extensively with the link between the document and the selection of a new chief of staff, but they will also look closely at the position and prestige that Harpaz carved out for himself while serving in the standing army and in the reserves.
The direction is clear; Lindenstrauss will seek information about Harpaz's commercial dealings, his influence on senior officials, whether he had access to classified information and other issues related to IDF appointments and promotions.
The comptroller wrote that he intends to meet with Barak and Ashkenazi on the matter. Lindenstrauss expects "full cooperation from all of those being probed and that it would be best if a blanket instruction was issued to all defense establishment officials requiring their full cooperation with the ombudsman's probe so that any delays or disruptions in the investigation can be prevented."
There is another important point to consider. The comptroller seeks to emphasize that he maintains "exclusivity in all aspects of the investigation so that it will not be interfered by other probes."
This is an explicit request for Barak to permanently shelve the inquiry panel headed by General (res. ) Yitzhak Brik. The committee's work was halted last month after Weinstein requested that it cease its probe until after the police conclude its investigation.
Barak, who suspects that a more comprehensive investigation will implicate Ashkenazi more so than it would himself, is interested in quick results. But the comptroller's work is likely to drag on for months, much longer than the Brik committee probably would. The comptroller's final conclusions will be announced after February 2011, the month Yoav Galant will take Ashkenazi's place. Without the Brik committee (the minister has yet to announce whether he will agree to Lindenstrauss' request to shelve the panel ), the conclusions of the probe will only be released at a less convenient time for Barak. This, however, is not a problem for Lindenstrauss and Or.
If there was concern last week that the continuing efforts to reveal the truth in the Harpaz affair would dissipate, it appears that those fears have been unfounded. The comptroller will dig deep into the heart of the case. When considering the reputation of General Or, one can expect a thorough, objective probe. In a case that has apparently become graver than originally thought, such a probe should not be taken for granted.
"As the chief of staff has stated in the past, the IDF is interested in, and will even cooperate with, any probe that will be handled by an independent body that has at its disposal the tools for an investigation," the IDF Spokesperson's Office said in response. "The IDF is thankful to the state comptroller for his decision to agree to many requests to launch an investigation and it will cooperate with that investigation whenever it is asked to do so. It will do so in order to clear the good names of the IDF and its commanders of any wrongdoing."
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