Former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi should have acted sooner to stop his staff from gathering information about Defense Minister Ehud Barak, according to new details that emerged on Monday from a draft of the state comptroller's report on the so-called Harpaz affair.
The report began as a probe into a document allegedly forged by a friend of Ashkenazi's, Lt. Col (res. ) Boaz Harpaz, in an effort to undermine Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's bid to succeed Ashkenazi. But it soon turned into a broader probe of the strained relationship between Ashkenazi and Barak.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss concluded that Ashkenazi knew two of the people closest to him - his aide, Col. Erez Weiner, and his wife, Ronit - were using Harpaz to gather information about Barak, and should have put a stop to it.
He also said Ashkenazi should have shown the forged document - which the report says he believed was genuine - to Barak the moment he received it. He leveled similar criticism at other generals to whom Ashkenazi showed the document, especially then-GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot.
Nevertheless, Lindenstrauss concluded that Ashkenazi wasn't involved in either forging the document or leaking it to Channel 2 television. Nor does he think Eizenkot was involved in the leak, though two of his close friends were.
Barak's treatment of Ashkenazi, Lindenstrauss wrote, doesn't justify Harpaz's "contemptible" efforts, in coordination with Weiner, to gather information that would make Barak look bad. These efforts, he wrote, were "active, ongoing and significant."
He also criticized the way Ashkenazi "downplayed" his relationship with Harpaz after the document was published.
Ashkenazi's associates said on Monday that the leaks from the report have been partial and misleading.
For instance, Haaretz reported on Monday that Weiner had told Harpaz that Ashkenazi wanted to block Galant's appointment. But the associates said this occurred only after Harpaz saw the forged document and was convinced it detailed a genuine plan for a smear campaign by Galant against his rivals.
On Monday, Channel 2 published another segment from recordings Ashkenazi had made of conversations in his office. In it, Weiner tells Ashkenazi he has information linking Barak and his bureau chief, Yoni Koren, to the New Israel Fund. According to Channel 2, Ashkenazi responded: "Very good. They should start disseminating this."
But Ashkenazi's associates flatly denied on Monday that this remark was ever made, claiming that on the contrary, he ordered Weiner to have nothing to do with publicizing the information.
Military Advocate General Danny Efroni will begin reviewing the draft this week to decide if legal steps against any of the officers involved are warranted. The most likely candidate would be Weiner.
Ashkenazi plans to wage a legal battle to get Lindenstrauss to change the draft, as he believes the conclusions about his relations with Harpaz and his knowledge of the information-gathering on Barak are wrong. Publicly, however, he said only that he is "studying the report" and "respects the comptroller's office."
"I have never run away from anything, not on the battlefield and not from criticism," he added, speaking at a ceremony in Or Yehuda to mark the city's naming of a square and an avenue in his honor. "I, my family and my staff have lived through a difficult campaign of attack. En route, perhaps we also made some mistakes. The most important thing in my eyes is that we learn the necessary lessons, so there will never again be such [poor] relations between the defense minister and the chief of staff, and between their bureaus."
Ashkenazi also stressed the comptroller's findings that no one in the IDF was involved in forging the document or trying to influence the choice of his successor, and that he had not sought to extend his term for a fifth year.
Gili Cohen contributed to this report.
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