Most of the blame for the scandal that erupted during the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi's successor as IDF chief of staff was laid at Ashkenazi's door by the state comptroller Sunday. In his report, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira said that those in Ashkenazi's office and his associates led a campaign to gather dirt on Defense Minister Ehud Barak and that Ashkenazi was at least partially aware. The comptroller also leveled criticism at Barak's behavior toward Ashkenazi, but stated that the faults in Barak's behavior could not justify the senior officers' conduct toward the political echelon.
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The public scandal erupted on August 6, 2010 when Channel 2 broadcasted a report on what became known as the "Harpaz Document." The document described a plan to harm the public standing of Ashkenazi and strengthen Barak and to ensure the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as IDF chief of staff. A police investigation determined the document was forged by Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz, an associate of Ashkenazi. Despite a police recommendation to prosecute and his admission of guilt during the investigation two years ago, Harpaz has yet to be indicted over the affair. The comptroller's report is the first time the twists and turns of the disturbing, complex affair have been documented in detail.
"There is no symmetry," a senior source in the state comptroller's office told Haaretz. "We found many faults with Barak's behavior toward Ashkenazi and his handling of the appointment of the new IDF chief of staff, but nothing can justify Ashkenazi's behavior with respect to the document itself, the delay in handing it over to the police when the scandal went public and the ties between the document's forger, Boaz Harpaz, and the chief of staff's aide, Col. Erez Weiner."
The rivalry between Barak and Ashkenazi began, according to the report, amid the jostling to claim credit for Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in January 2009. In the summer of that year, the rivalry intensified when Ashkenazi vetoed Galant's appointment as his deputy. Barak supported Galant's appointment, apparently as a preliminary step toward making him the next chief of staff (eventually, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz was chosen as a compromise candidate).
In 2010, the tension between the defense minister and IDF chief of staff deteriorated into open conflict. Barak publicly announced that he would not extend Ashkenazi's term as chief of staff for a fifth year, something Ashkenazi claimed he never wanted, and engaged in a public ad hominem attack on then-IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu.
By around February 2010, Ashkenazi brought Weiner and Harpaz together after the latter claimed to have information on Barak's designs against Ashkenazi. At the beginning of May, Harpaz passed along his forged document to Weiner, which Ashkenazi and his aide believed to be authentic. Ashkenazi then showed the document to the two other candidates in the running to become IDF chief of staff, Gantz and Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. Weiner even informed Eizenkot that Ashkenazi wanted to show him the document just a half-hour after it reached the IDF chief of staff.
The report states that besides forging the document that soon became known by his name, Harpaz also gathered damaging information on Barak and those around him. Weiner is described in the report as not only cooperating with Harpaz but encouraging his activities and providing him with information about Galant and other senior officers, plus sensitive appointments and the schedules and activities of high-ranking officials, including those of the prime minister, defense minister and IDF chief of staff.
The state comptroller's report says that after receiving the Harpaz document and other information provided by Harpaz through Weiner, Ashkenazi instructed his aide to avoid getting involved, but in practice gave Weiner free reign in his activities to undermine Barak and was at least partially aware of them.
"This is a serious matter particularly because Barak belongs to the political echelon," the comptroller wrote. Ashkenazi also did not seek to bring the document to the attention of the prime minister, legal authorities or Maj. Gen. Galant during the three months it was in his possession but chose to show it to Gantz and Eizenkot in manner that increased the tensions in the IDF General Staff. The comptroller also reviewed six and a half hours of conversations between Weiner and Harpaz taped in the IDF chief of staff's office and revealed hundreds of text messages between the two as well as thousands of text messages between Harpaz and Ashkenazi's wife Ronit, which indicated that many more unrecorded conversations had occurred.
The forged document was eventually leaked to the media by two close friends of Eizenkot, Mossad head Tamir Pardo (who at the time was a private citizen) and Col. (res.) Gabi Siboni. The two of them passed along the document through an intermediary to Channel 2 journalist Amnon Abramovich.
The public exposure of the document unleashed a huge scandal and an open, full-scale war between Barak and Ashkenazi. When the document was determined to be a forgery, Barak rushed forward Galant's appointment as the new IDF chief of staff. However, Galant's nomination was withdrawn at the last minute in February 2011 when his blatantly improper use of public land near his home in Moshav Amikamwas revealed to the public.
The state comptroller also rejected in his report the mutual recriminations between Ashkenazi and Barak and expressed disappointment with both sides' complete faith in conspiracy theories, "until the distortion of reality and even tiny incidents were blown completely out of proportion." He criticized Barak's conduct on a laundry list of topics including his public utterances regarding Ashkenazi, his role in selecting a new IDF Chief of staff and unnecessarily delaying more than 150 appointments of senior IDF officers because of his rivalry with Ashkenazi.
Moving forward, the state comptroller recommended that a new arrangement for appointing the IDF Chief of Staff be implemented and that the chief of staff's term be set by law.