Former IDF chief vows to learn lessons from probe into Harpaz affair
Gabi Ashkenazi, who was accused by the State Comptroller of plotting against the Defense Minister and his leading candidate for IDF chief in 2010, admits to having made mistakes during the affair.
Former chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi responded Monday to a State Comptroller report that accuses him of plotting against Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his leading candidate for IDF chief in 2010, Gen. Yoav Galant.
Ashkenazi said that he had made mistakes during the affair. "I will study the report and learn its lessons," he said, adding that there should never be such tense relations between the Defense Ministry and the General Staff, as there were between him and Barak.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss issued a draft report on Sunday on the investigation on the so-called "Harpaz document," a forged document outlining a purported plan to promote Galant's candidacy to become chief of General Staff.
In his report, Lindenstrauss apparently dropped strong hints that Ashkenazi was linked to efforts in 2010 to discredit Barak and Galant, but did not directly point a figure at the former IDF chief.
The document was meant to undermine Galant's candidacy by making it look as if Galant, or someone in Barak's circle, planned to smear the reputations of other senior Israel Defense Forces officers, including current Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz and Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, in a bid to win the position.
The document was made public in a Channel 2 news report in August 2010. After its release, police learned that Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz, who had been a close friend of Ashkenazi's for many years, had allegedly forged the document.
Both the police investigation and the state comptroller's investigation found that Ashkenazi was not involved in the forgery, nor was he involved in leaking the document to Channel 2. But both investigations uncovered numerous details about the broad connections between Ashkenazi, his wife Ronit, his aide Col. Erez Weiner and his friend Harpaz, and about their involvement in various attempts to undermine Barak.
On Monday, responding to the State Comptroller's report, Ashkenazi said that he had been under attack throughout the affair, but stressed that he had never tried to escape it or the criticism surrounding it. "I read the report, I am studying it and will learn its lessons," he said.
Moreover, he added, "I am glad that no one in the IDF was found to be involved in the forgery. The report ruled that the IDF did not intervene in the appointment of the IDF chief."
Lindenstrauss' 200-page draft document was sent by messenger on Sunday to Barak, Ashkenazi, Gantz, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Danny Efroni. Ashkenazi's senior aide, Col. Weiner, and Barak's chief of staff, Yoni Koren, also got summaries of the report, focusing on the complaints against them, so that they could respond.
In the coming days, sections of the report will be distributed to others who were less centrally involved.
Lindenstrauss told all those who received the draft that he expected them to respond within a month. The comptroller, who wants the report out before he retires in July, is aiming to release the final report in May.
The draft was distributed Sunday solely on a need-to-know basis, in an effort to reduce the chances of it being leaked to the media. The State Comptroller's Law forbids the media from publishing draft reports, but Lindenstrauss and his staff assumed that with emotions running high about the affair, there might be leaks in any case.
Since only a few people really know what's written in the report, any information leaked is likely to be slanted or even deliberately misleading.
With that warning in mind, based on discussions on Sunday with some of those involved in the affair, one could still sketch out the following:
Relations between Barak and Ashkenazi had been difficult for a long time; and they were not helped by Ashkenazi's obvious efforts to nurture his own public image, perhaps in an effort to be seen as a political alternative to Barak.
Relations deteriorated further as the two battled for credit over Operation Cast Lead in early 2009, and fought over the appointment of a deputy CGS later that year. Koren's assuming his post in Barak's bureau increased the tension, with Ashkenazi apparently believing the two were plotting against him.
At this point, Harpaz entered the picture, with Ashkenazi sending him to gather information about what Barak might be planning. But Harpaz never got any solid information from Barak's office. Instead, he fed Ashkenazi information he heard as gossip or read in the papers, putting these tidbits into a brief for Ashkenazi in April 2010. Ashkenazi apparently believed every word.
During the ensuing months, Ashkenazi, who somehow came into possession of the Harpaz document, showed it to several generals, including Gantz and Eizenkot, but did not show it to Barak, Galant, Lindenstrauss or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
After Ashkenazi's aide, Weiner, allegedly got a copy of the document to Channel 2 in some roundabout way, Ashkenazi still held the document for four days, even though the police were battling Channel 2 in court to obtain its copy. Ashkenazi also gave a very vague accounting to the police, the General Staff and the public about his relationship with Harpaz.
The state comptroller apparently made clear that he did not see Ashkenazi and Barak as equals: As insufferable as Barak can be, he was clearly Ashkenazi's superior, according to Lindenstrauss. Ashkenazi, as the military man, was obligated to submit to the demands of the political echelon.
Ashkenazi is expected to lead a legal and public campaign to alter the final version of the report. On Sunday, after looking through the draft report, he issued a statement saying he "appreciates and values the institution of the state comptroller and the person who heads it, as well as the comptroller's investigation of this matter, even though the report and its contents don't sit well."
"For exactly 40 years I wore my IDF uniform with pride. ... I am proud of my service. ... It pains me that during my mission as Chief of General Staff I got caught up, not to my benefit, in an unprecedented attack," he said.
Ashkenazi's confidants were reportedly pleased that the draft found that several of the allegations hurled against him were untrue. Among these were the accusations that there was no "putsch" attempt against Barak, that he hadn't asked for his term to be extended for a fifth year, and that he had no business dealings with Harpaz.
Barak, through his aides, said he was satisfied with what he'd read of the report.
"From what has been known to the public for a while already, there was evidence of a dangerous subculture in which a very small group of IDF leaders, helped by a number of civilians acting with no authority whatsoever, acted against the political echelon and against his own people in serious and unworthy ways. It is possible that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg."
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