Gadi Eizenkot
Gadi Eizenkot. Many top defense officials see him as the most suitable candidate to succeed the chief of staff. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has authorized the appointment of Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot as deputy chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces.

In an opinion issued on the eve of Yom Kippur, Weinstein ruled that the "nearly complete" draft of the state comptroller's report on the so-called Harpaz affair raises no legal obstacle to Eizenkot's promotion. Most of the comptroller's report is to be published at the beginning of October.

The Harpaz affair refers to a forged document authored by a former IDF officer, Boaz Harpaz, in order to influence the choice of former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's successor.

Weinstein's decision was delivered to Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and the military advocate general, Brig. Gen. Danny Efroni. It will be officially published once the wording has undergone final revisions.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak had pressured former State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss - apparently to no avail - to separate publication of the sections of the report that relate to the Harpaz affair from those relating to the appointment process for the chief of staff in general, so as to thwart any impression of parity between Barak and Ashkenazi. Barak evidently fears that publishing the report in its entirety would blacken his clean image.

The defense minister would like the sections of the report relating to the Harpaz affair published immediately, while delaying publication of the sections that relate to his dysfunctional relationship with Ashkenazi, his failed appointment of Yoav Galant to succeed Ashkenazi, his postponement of the appointments of hundreds of officers, his disregard of Ashkenazi when appointing a deputy and a spokesman for Galant (in the brief period before his appointment was canceled ), the destruction of recording equipment at the Defense Ministry, and the involvement of Barak's bureau in smearing a brigadier general, IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu, in the media.

Eizenkot has been on a private visit abroad in recent days. Last year, he completed five years as GOC Northern Command and embarked on a study leave. He has since been waiting for Gantz to decide who will serve as his second deputy, following Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh.

If Eizenkot is appointed, he will be the natural favorite to become the 21st chief of staff when Gantz's three-year term ends. Eizenkot is Gantz's preferred candidate, but the chief of staff recognizes the defense minster's right to influence the appointment of a deputy chief of staff.

Efroni asked the attorney general to look into whether any reference to Eizenkot in the comptroller's report could disqualify him. Eizenkot was not involved in writing the Harpaz document, but learned about it during a conversation with Ashkenazi's former aide, Col. Erez Weiner. He then consulted Yishai Beer, a former president of the military appeals court, regarding the possible legal ramifications; complained to Barak about its contents (without mentioning the document itself ); and conferred with his friends Gabi Siboni and Tamir Pardo, who advised him to tell Ashkenazi to report the document to either Barak or the state comptroller.

A draft of the state comptroller's report from March included a statement that Eizenkot failed to fully obey Ashkenazi's instructions not to use the Harpaz document. But Weinstein was convinced by Eizenkot's explanation that only after time had passed, and he realized that the document's existence had become known outside the tight circle around the chief of staff, did he allow himself to consult people outside the defense establishment about how to deal with the legal and moral ramifications of the document, which he believed - and still believes - wasn't a forgery.

The document, though designed to help Galant be appointed chief of staff, also discussed Eizenkot's future. It suggested that under Galant, Eizenkot would be appointed either deputy chief of staff or head of military intelligence.

Sources close to Barak have in recent weeks embarked on a vengeful campaign against Eizenkot's appointment. But other sources close to the defense minister say that Barak has yet to formulate his opinion on Eizenkot.

Eizenkot, a former commander of the Golani Brigade, was Barak's military secretary in 1999-2000, when Barak served as prime minister and defense minster, and remained in this position under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He later commanded an armored division as head of the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division at the height of the second intifada, in 2003-2005.

In 2009, Ashkenazi sought to appoint him deputy chief of staff, to further his chances of becoming chief of staff after Ashkenazi. But Barak preferred Galant, then GOC Southern Command. Due to this impasse, Eizenkot asked Ashkenazi to withdraw his candidacy, and Gantz ultimately got the job.

Barak continued to see Eizenkot and Galant as the only candidates for chief of staff, but for the sake of appearances added Gantz, and later major generals Avi Mizrahi and Gadi Shamni, to the list.

Barak's intention to chose between Eizenkot and Galant was revealed in his testimony to the state comptroller, in which he charged that Ashkenazi sought to get his term extended for a fifth year, and therefore tried to get Galant disqualified, trusting that Eizenkot would be prepared to wait. According to Barak, there were three alternatives: Galant, Eizenkot or extending Ashkenazi's term.