Gabi Ashkenazi Turkel Emil Salman 24.10.2010
Gabi Ashkenazi testifying before the Turkel committee in Jerusalem. Oct. 24, 2010. Photo by Emil Salman
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Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi doesn't like questions. He doesn't like questions from the prime minister, the defense minister or state commissions of inquiry. Nor does he like them from the media. The outgoing Israel Defense Forces chief of staff doesn't like questions from any monitor, elected official or democratic entity. But in the weeks to come, both State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and the Turkel Committee investigating the naval raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla will finally force Ashkenazi to answer a few questions. Some of those answers could even prove decisive.

The questions that need to be asked about the raid are already well known. Why, on the night of such an important operation, was the chief of staff not at command headquarters? How can the gap between what the military promised the cabinet, behind closed doors, and the operation's miserable outcome be explained? How can we accept the fact that the IDF neither admitted its failure immediately nor genuinely accepted responsibility for it? Does the IDF's failure to understand and to contend with the incident point to an inability to understand and cope with similar incidents? Does the patent dishonesty the army has shown in all things related to the operation reflect a deeper dishonesty taking root in the IDF?

The questions in the Harpaz affair are also well-known. Lt. Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz is under investigation for his alleged role in forging a document in order to influence the appointment of Ashkenazi's successor, prior to Yoav Galant's appointment to the post. Does the fact that a forged document reached as far as it did in the IDF's upper echelon testify to moral rot in the army? Does the fact that an officer as problematic as Harpaz was turned into a protege of the chief of staff, and exposed to Israel's most sensitive secrets, point to real failings in the security apparatus? How can the contradiction be squared between the way Ashkenazi dealt with an excellent officer such as Moshe Tamir (forced out of the IDF for covering up a crash involving his teenage son and an army vehicle ) and the way he dealt with damaged goods like Harpaz? How can it be that the chief of staff has neither condemned Harpaz, Erez Weiner (an Ashkenazi aide suspected of distributing the document ) or Col. (res. ) Gabi Siboni (who allegedly leaked the document to Israel's Channel 2 News ), nor taken any disciplinary action against them? Can a properly run army be led by a factious and manipulative command echelon? Is the army chief not responsible for the fact that an unprecedented bid to foment an officers' revolt was cooked up in his backyard?

And yet, beyond these obvious questions is one that is less so. Ashkenazi argues, in his defense, that the police concluded that Harpaz had forged the document himself - God's honest truth. The police maintain that Harpaz acted to help Ashkenazi, in a bid to extend his term and to make it more difficult for the cabinet to replace him, but also that figures close to Ashkenazi had searched for incriminating information that could be used against GOC Southern Command Galant and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. There is no evidence that Harpaz acted on explicit instructions from Ashkenazi, but it appears that his conduct was based on a firm understanding of Ashkenazi's mood as well as on the troubles within and the objectives of the chief of staff's bureau. As an Ashkenazi loyalist, Harpaz undertook to create a forgery to help achieve Ashkenazi's goals, giving the chief of staff a metaphoric gun with which to shoot his opponents and force his will on the cabinet.

According to police findings, Ashkenazi did not commit a crime. He neither committed nor was party to forgery. But he is responsible for the environment that allowed the forgery to take place.

The hidden question is the more fundamental one. Under Ashkenazi's command did the IDF become an army that searched for material with which to defame the democratically elected leadership? Under his command, did the army intimidate the country's leaders through the media or through other means? Or was Ashkenazi a blameless General MacArthur whose staff chose to follow the methods of McCarthy?

The hidden question is the one that should shock Israel's foundation to the core, as it touches on the core of our identity as a civilized state. That's why Lindenstrauss, as state comptroller, stands to face his greatest challenge ever. The question does not refer to a specific person, or to the military itself. The question is whether the State of Israel has become a Third-World country.