Yoav Gallant, L, and Gabi Ashkenazi, September 2009
Yoav Gallant, L, and Gabi Ashkenazi, September 2009 Photo by Alberto Denkberg
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The facts are known to all, but the facts are unfathomable. It is alleged that a retired Israeli colonel (a good friend of the chief of staff ) handed a forged document to another Israeli colonel (the chief of staff's personal assistant ), who passed it on to a third Israeli colonel (an associate of the chief of staff's assistant ), who then gave it to journalists who reported its contents on our flagship news program aired by a semi-public television network.

The forged document, which included false accusations against the minister who is the chief of staff's superior (a man loathed by that same chief of staff ) and another general (also loathed by the chief of staff ), was presented by that flagship program as authentic exactly two days after the formal search for the chief of staff's replacement began.

This chain of events was set in motion by the chief of staff's associates and/or supporters, and the result dovetailed with the chief of staff's interests: the suspension of the process for appointing his successor. Thus arose the reasonable possibility whereby the chief of staff's term would be extended until the minister he answers to was replaced or the government he reports to fell.

The media cooperated in good faith. Innocently enough, the public was misled. The plot was exposed only when the police entered the picture. The facts were revealed only because Police Commissioner David Cohen and Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, the head of the police's intelligence and investigations unit, are honest, courageous and professional officers. At the last minute, we averted a situation whereby colonels known to be associates of the chief of staff maliciously used the media - all with the aim of forcing an elected government to submit to the will of the chief of staff, who is supposed to be subordinate to it.

Dozens of scandals have befallen Israel in recent years. None of them, however, have been as grave as the colonels' mutiny. This time the issue does not revolve around fraud, bribery or untoward sexual behavior. Now the question is how a cohort of officers overran the country's most popular television studio without using tanks, fabricated something horrifying, incited against the civilian leadership and sabotaged the vital process of selecting a commander to lead the army, one overseen by Israeli democracy's elected representatives.

Douglas MacArthur was the most feted American hero in the war effort against the Japanese between 1941 and 1945. Afterward he ruled over occupied Japan, reconstructing the country in exemplary fashion. He then commanded UN forces in Korea, rescuing Seoul. Yet once the popular and charismatic general began publicly questioning the policy of the administration in Washington, his rare virtues could not save him. On April 11, 1951, after he flouted orders handed down by the president, Harry Truman, the supposedly wishy-washy commander in chief called on the supposedly dazzling MacArthur to return home. To this day, Truman's deed is considered an act of civilian heroism, highlighting the way a democracy must deal with celebrated military commanders who violate its fundamental rules.

Israel's 19th chief of staff is no MacArthur. He did not win wars like MacArthur did, nor did he rebel against the administration. But the chief of staff may not avoid the fact that a conspiracy of colonels against the elected government was hatched in his court. What the office of a battalion commander cannot do to a brigade commander and what the office of a brigade commander cannot do to a division commander the office of the chief of staff cannot do to the defense minister and the prime minister. This is a chilling violation of a taboo.

Gabi Ashkenazi is a moral, wise and impressive commander. The Israeli people are deeply indebted to him for his role in rehabilitating the Israel Defense Forces and restoring trust in it in recent years. Yet the government system still in place here does not grant Ashkenazi the title of supreme ruler. It is not the army that governs the people, but the people who govern the army using the Knesset and the government. Ashkenazi is supposed to grasp these basic concepts.

The colonels who are subordinate to him and close to him do not understand. They do not realize that the senior officer corps is not allowed to undermine the civilian leadership. Thus the burden of proof rests on the outgoing chief of staff. He must explain what happened and how. He must give a full reckoning of his role in the affair. He must immediately dismiss the colonels who staged a mutiny and disassociate himself from them, restoring democracy to its proper bearings.