Barak, Netanyahu must heed comptroller report on IDF debacle
Netanyahu is the third man in the Ashkenazi-Barak affair, the man who struck a passive pose with active significance for one side - that of his political ally.
When the man who oversees military investigations in the State Comptroller's Office, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yaakov Orr, eventually leaves office, he will take a precious memento off the wall: a group picture of young Golani Brigade soldiers, taken in the early 1970s. The generation of the Yom Kippur War, from which not all returned. These are the people - they, their sons and grandsons - whom Orr must have remembered with pain and anger when he wrote the draft report to be circulated on Sunday to the relevant parties in the Barak-Ashkenazi affair, also known as the Harpaz Affair.
The affair involves allegations that Lt. Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz forged a document in an attempt to harm the bid of Yoav Galant for Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. In the end, Galant was disqualified as a candidate over unrelated allegations that he had improperly used public lands near his home, and the current military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, was appointed instead.
In February and March 2010, two old acquaintances had separate chance meetings with Orr: then IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Maj. Gen. (res. ) Uri Saguy, who had been commander of the Golani Brigade reconnaissance unit a little before Orr. They told him about the harsh feelings Ashkenazi was harboring as a result of the continued attacks on him from people within Defense Minister Ehud Barak's circle. The Harpaz document had not yet come into being; that document was, in fact, the first complaint, by one of the parties, about the damage being caused by the war between the defense minister and the chief of staff. If only, instead of sitting on the forged document until it hatched, Ashkenazi had been wise enough to hand it over as an official complaint to Orr or to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, the events of the last two years would have turned out differently.
Practically no one will emerge unscathed from Orr's draft report. Those who will potentially be harmed by it, and are therefore tensely waiting to see it, will have to fight in the public arena - and perhaps also in the legal one - over every scrap of it. That is particularly true because the comptroller's scrutiny - unlike a police investigation, whose results are perused by the State Prosecution ahead of a decision on dropping the probe or indicting the suspects - is not required to adhere to the rules of evidence.
However, without waiting for the mountain to produce a molehill or for choice nuggets to emerge, one fact is already clear: The situation among the top brass of the defense establishment in 2009 and 2010 was very bad; brother fighting brother, even more than usual.
That is not an earth-shattering revelation; its main points were frequently reported from the battlefield, since to a great extent the protagonists were fighting in the newspapers. They quarreled over status, respect and prestige. The pianist Barak wanted Ashkenazi to play second fiddle. Ashkenazi suffered from a slight inferiority complex; Barak from a major superiority complex. Ashkenazi frequently suffered hurt feelings. Barak could not come to terms with the possibility that the rough-and-tumble, ostensibly clumsy soldier would refuse to knuckle under, and would turn out to be a master of artifice who would beat him at his own game.
In the middle, riddled with the cross fire, was the IDF. The man in charge of it, and not only of his bureau, was Ashkenazi. The IDF is an important part, but not the only part, of the defense establishment. The man in charge of that, and not only of his bureau, was and still is Barak. The defense establishment is the most important part, but not the only part, of the government. The man in charge of that, and not only of his bureau, was and still is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The chief of staff does not "belong to" the defense minister. He is the supreme commander of the military wing, which carries out the orders of the government. A failure of the army, which costs the lives of soldiers and civilians, is a failure of the entire government, and especially of the person who heads it. Acts of commission and omission that disrupt the army in its preparation for its missions, or in devoting its full attention to commanding those missions, should be resoundingly condemned.
Netanyahu is the third man in the Ashkenazi-Barak affair, the man who struck a passive pose with active significance for one side - that of his political ally - in that he refused to relate to the distress of the other side, the man who was perceived as a future political rival when he retired from the army.
The carelessness and brutishness in the process of selecting Ashkenazi's successor as chief of staff - which was reflected in Yoav Galant's appointment before it was ascertained that he had successfully passed muster with the comptroller, the attorney general and the High Court of Justice - and simultaneously making Ashkenazi sick of his position and being so good as to vacate it, is Barak's personal fault. However, it is Netanyahu's supreme responsibility.
If this conclusion emerges clearly Sunday from the draft report and overshadows trifling recorded items, Orr will have fulfilled his obligation to the soldiers in the photograph, forever young, like Barak and Ashkenazi once were.