ashkenazi
IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, left, and IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu at a graduation ceremony yesterday. Photo by Nir Keidar
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IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi sought to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two months ago to intervene in the appointment of new members to the General Staff in the hope he would pressure Defense Minister Ehud Barak to delay naming a successor, Netanyahu's aides say.

At another meeting three weeks ago, Ashkenazi asked Netanyahu to persuade Barak not to announce the name of the next chief of staff before October. He explained the request by saying he wanted to prevent an unhealthy situation in which there are two de facto commanders of the IDF.

After Netanyahu spoke with Barak on the matter two months ago, the latter postponed the timing for announcing Ashkenazi's successor to August. Barak had considered naming the next chief of staff as early as June.

During his meeting with Netanyahu, Ashkenazi did not mention the existence of the so-called Galant document, which outlines an alleged public relations plan to sow discord between Barak and Ashkenazi and smear candidates for chief of staff, boosting the odds that GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant would get the nod.

A copy of the document had reached the Israel Defense Forces' chief's office as early as late April.

Ashkenazi opposed Barak's plan to announce the name of his successor in August. The IDF chief recommended that the announcement be made in November, three months before his term ends. Barak eventually elected to begin the hiring process in August, much to Ashkenazi's chagrin.

On August 4, the defense minister announced that he had begun interviewing candidates. Two days later, Channel 2 revealed the existence of the Galant document.

Aides to the prime minister told Haaretz that the conversation between Netanyahu and Ashkenazi has been documented. Ashkenazi's tense relations with Barak were not discussed at the meeting two months ago, nor did the IDF chief mention the existence of any document related to the appointment of his successor.

Netanyahu spoke with Barak and Ashkenazi yesterday, urging them to put aside the affair and not let ill feelings affect their work.

"The IDF high command's preoccupation with the [Galant document] investigation has to stop," Netanyahu said in a press release. "I expect the military and security high command to continue working together and cooperating for the sake of Israel's security." (See story page 2 )

The investigation into the affair took a turn this week on news that Ashkenazi had held a copy of the document for more than three months without notifying Barak, Galant or Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. This development has evoked criticism in the IDF's top ranks.

Officers said they were amazed at the chief of staff's behavior, which they said did not measure up to the demands he made of them as commanders.

Ashkenazi, for his part, said last night that the affair "harms us all, as it does the people involved." He was speaking at a graduation ceremony in Tel Aviv for the IDF's Command and Staff College.

"What's even worse is the harmful impact on the most precious and important asset we have - the source of our strength. And that's the trust and support of the Israeli people ... whom it's our job to defend," he added.

"If we find that there were any flaws, we will know how to deal with them forcefully. That's what Israeli society expects from us, and that's what we'll do. The challenges and complex threats before the IDF and the State of Israel don't grant us the luxury of diverting our attention to any issue but the heavy national responsibility that is placed on our shoulders."

Officers at the ceremony acknowledged that the entire affair had cast a pall on the IDF, particularly after news of Ashkenazi's inaction became public. "This is a difficult time for the army and the state," said one officer, who added that the affair was the main topic of conversation in the army and that most officers hope that Ashkenazi will be absolved.

Channel 1 reported yesterday that Galant, GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot and Eizenkot's friend Colonel (res. ) Gabi Siboni gave statements to the police. They are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

Barak Ravid contributed reporting.