ashkenazi - Tomer Appelbaum - November 12 2010
Gabi Ashkenazi. Just as in the years before the Yom Kippur War, today’s chief of staff wields control over several communications outlets. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Three in-depth investigative reports by three different media outlets over the past three days painted an identical picture of reality: Boaz Harpaz was a disreputable officer. According to these reports, he was suspected in the past of leaking highly sensitive classified material, of forgery, of obscuring his tracks, of corrupt use of special military means and of defrauding the Israel Defense Forces.

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi granted his protection to this shady character. Both as deputy chief of staff and as director general of the Defense Ministry, he intervened on Harpaz's behalf and protected him. This led the army's top brass to conclude that the two had a very strong, close relationship. It gave them the impression that it was dangerous to oppose Harpaz and best to get on his good side. Many thought this dubious officer had clout and influence in the chief of staff's bureau.

Gidi Weitz (Haaretz ), Ronen Bergman (Yedioth Ahronoth ) and the Raviv Drucker-Ofer Shelah team (Channel 10 ) have now completed the jigsaw puzzle on which Ayala Hasson (Channel 1 ) worked courageously for months. And it is a worrisome picture.

It shows that corruption was rampant in one of Israel's most sensitive security establishments. It shows that some of the state's most highly classified secrets were leaked in a reckless manner. It shows that the IDF's ethical standards have become selective ones. And it shows that the IDF was not always scrupulous about telling the truth.

Corruption: Personal considerations and vested interests have penetrated the IDF's operational networks and defiled them. State secrets: An unprecedented problem of field security has developed at the heart of the national security establishment, one that could have strategic implications. Selective ethical standards: The IDF's arbitrary, tribal and unfair enforcement of moral norms has emptied them of content and deprived them of validity. Telling the truth: Even when the chief of staff appeared before the General Staff at the moment of truth, he did not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

A drama took place behind the scenes of these investigative reports' publication. Heavy pressure was exerted on at least one journalist to refrain from publishing the truth. And this pressure was effective: The whole truth was not published.

Once again, it has been proven that it is difficult, perhaps even dangerous, to cross the chief of staff. Just as in the years before the Yom Kippur War, today's chief of staff wields control over several communications outlets. Just as in the year before the Second Lebanon War, the chief of staff has the power to create an image of the IDF that has no connection to reality.

At the week draws to a close, this armor-plated immunity has been cracked, but it remains strong. The general public does not yet know how deep the rot runs in Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi's kingdom.

The truth will come to light. It is not possible to fool all the people all the time. Even though Israel looks and acts like a banana republic, it is not a banana republic. It will not bury a scandal that is many times more serious than the Shin Bet affair of the 1980s or the Lavon affair of the 1950s. It will not ignore an attempt by senior officers to undermine Israeli democracy.

But when the truth does come out, trenchant questions will be asked. How could it be that even after the disengagement from Gaza and the Second Lebanon War, the "etrog syndrome" - the media's zealous protection of those in power - continued? How could it be that even during the age of transparency, it was possible to tell the public that black is white and white is black? How could it be that in the Israel of 2010, an extremely powerful military-media combine gained control of the public discourse by blocking and deflecting information?

Personal questions will likewise be asked. Where was the military advocate general, Avichai Mendelblit? Did the police under Commissioner David Cohen and head of the investigations department Yoav Segalovich show sufficient courage? Did Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein act with neither fear nor bias? Did Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak behave like leaders?

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is now faced with a tremendous mission. He must immediately obtain all the testimony and evidence police have gathered. He must separate the wheat from the chaff, the information from the disinformation. And when he has completed his work, he must present the public with the truth that has been hidden from it.

Only the light of day can heal the IDF of its affliction. Only the light of day can dismantle the military-media combine.