Former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, left, chatting with his successor, Benny Gantz, at an IDF
Former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, left, chatting with his successor, Benny Gantz, at an IDF function in 2011. Photo by Ofer Vaknin
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Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz didn't know in advance that his military advocate general planned to request a criminal investigation into Gantz's predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi.

Military Advocate General Danny Efroni wrote Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to request the probe a month ago. But Gantz learned of it only after Channel 10 television, which broke the story on Sunday, asked him for a reaction.

Gantz was also unaware until then that Efroni has decided to open his own criminal investigation into Ashkenazi's former aide, Col. Erez Weiner, if Weinstein turns down his request. Efroni can investigate Weiner himself because Weiner is still a serving officer. But it's not clear he would have the authority to summon Ashkenazi for questioning, as Ashkenazi has already retired.

Efroni's request to Weinstein was prompted by the state comptroller's draft report on the so-called Harpaz affair, which initially revolved around a document allegedly forged by Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz in an effort to ensure that Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant didn't succeed Ashkenazi as chief of staff. It later expanded to include suspicions that Ashkenazi and Weiner had used Harpaz in an attempt to dig up dirt on Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his aides. Efroni believes the facts as known to date raise a suspicion of fraud, breach of trust and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Ashkenazi, too, learned of Efroni's letter - whose full contents have yet to be published - only from Channel 10's report, and seemed surprised by Gantz's profession of ignorance. But Haaretz has confirmed that Efroni never informed Gantz of the letter. Indeed, he didn't inform any of his colleagues on the General Staff, as he wanted to keep the issue under wraps. But he apparently didn't consider the possibility that it might be leaked by someone in the Justice Ministry.

Ashkenazi's supporters accused Efroni yesterday of trying to suck up to Barak in a bid to be promoted from brigadier general to major general. They also charged that Efroni was Barak's hand-picked candidate for the military advocate general's job.

But while Barak doesn't emerge clean as a whistle from the Harpaz affair either, and his promotion of special Knesset legislation to allow former State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to complete the final report on the affair is highly problematic, it's hard to argue that Efroni is "Barak's man": He was a compromise appointment, chosen after a well-publicized battle between Barak and Gantz ended with neither willing to accept the other's first choice.

Barak actually wanted Col. Avi Levy, while Gantz wanted Col. Sharon Afek. But because the military advocate general is traditionally chosen by agreement between the chief of staff and the defense minister, they eventually settled on Efroni as a compromise. Indeed, it's not even clear that Barak knew Efroni before then.

Moreover, as Haaretz reported yesterday, Barak and Gantz decided at the time that henceforth, the military advocate general should be a major general, and that Efroni would therefore be promoted to this rank at the end of his first year on the job, which will be next month.

Efroni, who served as deputy to previous Military Advocate General Avichai Mendelblit, left the army three years ago after concluding that Mendelblit wasn't retiring any time soon, but was then called back last year to succeed him. He is very different from his predecessor, however. While he appears to have little media savvy, he is fiercely independent - to the point of not even telling his commanding officer, Gantz, about his letter to Weinstein.

Meanwhile, many of those involved in the Harpaz affair have been summoned to the comptroller's office in recent weeks to give additional testimony. The next step is for Lindenstrauss to send his "almost final" report to all the people involved, probably in mid-September, so they can respond. As the time draws near, it seems likely that the mutual mudslinging among those concerned will only get worse.