Battle between Barak, former IDF chief is one for Israel's future
The battle between the defense minister Barak and former IDF chief of staff Ashkenazi, is no longer about prestige and credibility. It is for nothing less than Israeli democracy.
Ehud Barak will either receive the good citizenship medal or be summarily ejected from the Defense Ministry and shunned by the Knesset. No other options are possible, and rightfully so. The willful ignorance of the matter by the judiciary, the legislature and the cabinet cannot go on.
The defense minister has accused former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi of 10 different criminal offenses, including fraud, breach of trust, giving and taking bribes, being an accessory to bribery and conspiring to obstruct government operations. This is not merely another example of bad blood between a defense minister and the chief of staff. This time the minister of defense is accusing the country's supreme military commander of some of the worst crimes on the books. He is asserting that the man who was head of the IDF for four years, during which time he planned and conducted a war in the Gaza Strip and made decisions that changed soldiers' lives, is a criminal.
As if all that were not enough, in a letter Barak's attorney sent about two weeks ago to the attorney general, the defense minister claimed the matter went beyond the document forgery and conspiracy to obstruct the process of choosing his successor as chief as staff that Ashkenazi allegedly committed. Barak also suggested that "a group of senior officers, led by Ashkenazi 'as the head of the pyramid,'" had committed the crimes of "conspiracy to obstruct the government and to obstruct justice, and taking and giving bribes in connection with senior IDF appointments."
In a statement issued by his office, Barak cited "evidence of a dangerous subculture in which a very small group at the top of the IDF, aided by a number of civilians acting without any authority, took action against their superiors in the political leadership and against their own subordinates." In other words, not only the chief of staff committed crimes, but so did senior officials in IDF General Staff headquarters, some of whom were still in active service. If the charges are true, then it is no less than a Kirya putsch.
The story is no longer that of the so-called Harpaz document and what the former chief of staff did or did not do with it. Regardless of the findings of the State Comptroller's Office investigation into the affair, the comptroller's report cannot be allowed to be the last word. Only a police investigation has the potential to put an end to what is shaping up to be the most heinous affair in the history of the Israeli military establishment. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein must recognize that the time for sweeping things under the rug is over and order a criminal investigation. Barak let the genie out of the bottle, and it will not go back inside.
Speaking before he became chief of staff, Benny Gantz referred to the Harpaz affair as a "corpse whose stench took over the room." On the same occasion he argued that the affair must be thoroughly investigated so the truth could come to light and the General Staff headquarters could be "aired out" to be rid of "the stink." Now that he is commander in chief Gantz must take action to expose the truth. Regardless of whether or not Weinstein orders a criminal investigation, Gantz must instruct Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Danny Efroni to get the Military Police to investigate the criminal allegations raised by Barak. The miasma of the stench will continue to hover in the halls of General Staff headquarters until this action is taken.
This is no longer a battle between the defense minister and the former chief of staff for prestige and credibility. It is now a battle for nothing less than the character and soundness of Israeli democracy. If the peculiar failure to address Barak's unprecedented accusations continues, our democracy will take yet another step down the slippery slope it has been sliding of late.