The issue of civilian control over the army stands at the heart of many crises that have divided Israeli society, politics and the media, from the dismantling of the Palmach militia and the Lavon affair under Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 Lebanon war, the 2005 Gaza disengagement and the current argument over whether to attack Iran.
What has become known as the Harpaz affair has similar characteristics. At its core stands a demand by the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff for status equal to the defense minister, and his difficulty in accepting his subordination to the minister, as required by both the law and the norm of civilian supremacy common to every democratic regime.
The state comptroller's report on the Harpaz affair delves deeply into the conflict between former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. It paints a grim picture of the infighting and power struggles among top defense officials, which paralyzed staff work on sensitive national issues, all under the apathetic eye of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
There are no righteous men in this story. Netanyahu and Barak both failed in imposing their authority over the high command - the former by refusing to intervene in the crisis, the latter by riding roughshod over the principles of good government.
But Netanyahu's sins of omission and Barak's sins of commission don't justify Ashkenazi's behavior. The chief of staff's inner circle waged a campaign of spying and smearing against Barak, his aides and any officers deemed close to the minister. For this purpose, Ashkenazi's aide, Col. Erez Weiner, employed Lt. Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz, who forged the document that brought the whole affair to light.
This document was used by Ashkenazi and his aides to poison the atmosphere among the army's top brass and mobilize it against the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as the next chief of staff. Then, after the document was published by Channel 2 television, Ashkenazi delayed in giving his copy to police investigators.
This chain of events requires the investigation to be pursued to its end, so as to clear up various suspicions of criminal conduct. The state comptroller asked the attorney general several months ago to order such a probe, but the attorney general, as is his wont, is sitting on the material, and his associates say he is leaning against an investigation.
This would be a mistake: Such a probe is necessary to clear the air in the army's top ranks and prevent similar acts in the future.
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