Former Defense Minister Ehud Barak and ex-IDF Chief Gabi Ashkenazi
Former Defense Minister Ehud Barak and ex-IDF Chief Gabi Ashkenazi Photo by Archive / Alon Ron
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A crisis erupted about two weeks ago between the bureaus of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi over the refusal by Ashkenazi's bureau to provide Barak with a copy of the Eiland report on the conduct of the army in the Gaza flotilla affair.

After Barak's bureau protested, the chief of staff provided the report.

On July 12, a few hours before Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland presented the report of his team of experts at a press conference, he presented the findings and conclusions to Barak and Ashkenazi. Barak then asked for a written copy of the report but Ashkenazi initially refused. The chief of staff's aides said some corrections and clarifications had to be made before a copy could be submitted to the minister.

The report was finally delivered last week, before Ashkenazi's working trip to Italy and France.

Both bureaus deny suggestions from various sources that Barak had hinted to Ashkenazi that he would not approve his trip abroad until he received the report.

Tensions between Ashkenazi and Barak have been high during the past year, beginning with disagreement over the appointment of the deputy chief of staff, which ended with Barak insisting that Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz be appointed. Another bone of contention was Barak's announcement in April that he would not extend Ashkenzi's term for a fifth year. Then came the May 31 operation at sea by naval commandos, in whose aftermath there was disagreement between the two over the responsibility for its failures.

The Turkel committee, which is investigating the incident, is to begin its deliberations next week; the following week, the panel is expected to summon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the defense minister and the chief of staff for questioning.

One reason for the delay in delivering the report to Barak may have been concern that its full text, which was not presented to the press, could constitute the basis for leaks to the media.

The question also arose as to whether Barak could use the report, which is based on operational debriefings in the navy and other branches of the IDF, in preparing for his testimony before the Turkel committee. The latter has also received the Eiland report.

Ashkenazi said yesterday that he was not concerned over a breach of confidentiality with respect to the report, which was given to the panel without the names of the soldiers involved.

Meanwhile, the chief of staff said yesterday on a visit to the IDF induction base at Tel Hashomer that he would be the one to appear before the committee - not the soldiers who took part in the operation. He said it was important to back the soldiers so they would not think that when they set out on an operation, a commission of inquiry would be waiting for them when they returned.

Ashkenazi also expressed dismay over the fact that so many bodies - the Turkel and Eiland committees, the state comptroller and two international UN panels - were investigating the incident.

Tensions between Barak and Ashkenazi also extended to discussions of the defense budget two weeks ago, with sources close to Ashkenazi saying that not enough was done to reduce cuts to the defense budget.

The two also disagree over the date for announcing the appointment of the next chief of staff. Ashkenazi wants it put off until November, three months before he ends his term. Barak wants to move the date up, and may begin consultations next week, after he returns from a trip to Washington.