Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak at a Labor Party meeting in Jerusalem, June 2010. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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The public-relations consultant Eyal Arad did the right thing yesterday in asking the police to investigate whether the document bearing his firm's seal was forged.

The exposure of the so-called Galant document - which apparently reveals a concerted campaign in support of GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant's appointment as IDF chief of staff - has escalated the "war of the generals" between two lieutenant generals, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and current army chief Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as a handful of other top brass vying for Ashkenazi's post. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did the right thing, too, in vetting the matter with the attorney general and Ashkenazi himself, who said the army would cooperate with any investigation.

Both the document's contents and its timing must be investigated at once to determine whether manipulation or misinformation was involved. The public good requires police investigators to plumb the incident to its depths, without fears about probing the actions of senior figures. The head of the police's Investigation and Intelligence Division, Yoav Segalovich, must not be impeded in completing that very task.

The Basic Law on the Army grants the defense minister wide-ranging powers as the government's representative to the military. But supervision over those powers lies with government ministers, charged as they are with protecting the public good. Only the defense minister has the authority to recommend a chief of staff to the government.

The prime minister controls the political agenda and can therefore decline to bring the matter before the cabinet, but unless he is looking for a fight with the defense minister, the meeting will end with a victory for the defense minister and the office he holds. The choice of an army chief is influenced by political power games between the prime minister and the defense minister, but the Israel Defense Forces is not their private militia, and the choice of who will head it must not be influenced by the political caprices of either politician.

Allowing Barak to select a chief of staff rests on the assumption that 30 years of service in the field and the war room allows him to pick the most suitable out of a roster of highly qualified generals. But that assumption needs to be proved, given that the ever-present squabbles between government bureaus, sometimes with outside interference, give reason to lower expectations that the most qualified man will be offered the job.

The government is the IDF's commander, and the chief of staff is the army's senior officer. The trust of soldiers and civilians in both symbols of leadership has been severely undermined. It must be restored, and fast.