The Harpaz affair is alive and kicking even if it escapes media attention for weeks at a time. The case involves allegations that Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz launched an effort that included forging a document to prevent the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as Israel Defense Forces chief of staff.
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Last week State Comptroller Joseph Shapira's office received the last of the responses to a draft report that was distributed for comment in September to those whose conduct has been under investigation in the case. The September draft was termed "almost final," and the last of the responses to it were from Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his bureau chief Yoni Koren. If there are no further delays in issuing the final report, Shapira should be issuing it in another month or two.
In the meantime, however, time is running out for Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to decide how to act, if at all, on a recommendation of Shapira's predecessor, Micha Lindenstrauss, that a criminal investigation be opened in the case. Weinstein only has until the beginning of next month to decide.
Although Shapira took over from Lindenstrauss as comptroller on July 4, the Knesset passed a special law giving Lindenstrauss continuing authority for an additional three months to complete his investigation of the Harpaz affair and issue a final report.
He has not done so, however. The main reason for this is a surprise change in Barak's stance, in which he asked for and received additional time to respond to the draft. Barak was the clear "winner" emerging from Lindenstrauss' draft report in March. The gap between the assessment of Barak's conduct and that of his nemesis, Gabi Ashkenazi, who was IDF chief of staff when the affair unfolded, has narrowed, however. The comptroller has somewhat eased the scathing criticism of Ashkenazi that appeared in earlier drafts of the report and somewhat broadened his attention to Barak's conduct in the case.
Lindenstrauss has not, however, changed his basic line in the report. He casts most of the blame on Ashkenazi's camp due to the connection between alleged forger Harpaz and Ashkenazi's assistant, Erez Weiner, a connection said to be based on the collection of information that would sully the reputations of Barak and those around him.
Lindenstrauss indeed has attacked Barak's conduct. For example, he took issue with the coordination of the appointment of a deputy chief of staff and of the IDF spokesman with Galant, the man who at the time was expected to succeed Ashkenazi. In the end, Galant dropped out of contention because of questions raised about his land deals, which were unrelated to the Harpaz affair.
Most of the comptroller's attention to Barak concerns the defense minister's conduct after the affair over the forged document became public, when Barak's relations with Ashkenazi soured to a point of no return.
Ashkenazi has had the advantage of broad public appeal and considerable media support, although Barak, too, has his share of supporters in the media. Ashkenazi decided to limit the damage and refrain from placing any further obstacles in the path to the release of the final report. But Barak has asked for more time, explaining that he wished to challenge some of the new findings against him.
These developments come against the backdrop of Knesset elections that have just been set for January 22. Although Barak denies that the timing of the elections has influenced his approach to the case, it is clear that the defense minister, whose Atzmaut party is fighting to attract the minimum two percent of the vote required for representation in the Knesset, would hardly benefit from the release of a report that cast doubt on his conduct.
Barak has had access to a huge volume of information. The State Comptroller's Office has now provided him close to 10,000 pages of findings and testimony, documents that were also provided several months ago at their own request to Ashkenazi and Weiner. Hardly any of this material has been leaked to the press up to this point that would serve Weiner's interests.
Now Barak has possession of the material, but in the meantime, the High Court of Justice has imposed a gag order on the information, at the comptroller's request. Nonetheless, it can be assumed that it includes a considerable amount of explosive findings.
It appears, for example, that the defense minister is now in possession of a full transcript of six-and-a-half hours of conversations between Weiner and Harpaz recorded by Ashkenazi's bureau. And the answers Harpaz provided to the state comptroller on May 1 include new, wide-ranging claims, even if the credibility of the person providing them may be in doubt.
Shapira is apparently interested in releasing the final report with a minimum of further delay, but there are two people who could still stand in his way. The first, as noted, is Barak, but the second is Weiner, who bears the brunt of the report's heaviest criticism. If Shapira announces that the final report will be forthcoming shortly, Weiner might petition the High Court of Justice demanding that the new comptroller accord him a new hearing, on the argument that Shapira cannot sign off on a report that was issued by his predecessor, Lindenstrauss, without verifying its findings himself.
Another complication involves Weinstein. At the beginning of May, Lindenstrauss sent Weinstein a letter recommending that the attorney general open a new criminal investigation into the forgery case. Although Lindenstrauss didn't specify who the suspects were who he thought should be investigated, his letter focused on Weiner and Harpaz, saying that they deserved special attention because they had taken aim against the political leadership to which the army reports. Among the alleged offenses that Lindenstrauss said should be examined are conduct unbecoming of an officer, breach of trust and conspiracy with the intent to harm an individual's reputation.
Initially, Weinstein took strong exception to the recommendation, but since then his personal dispute with Lindenstrauss has waned. About two months ago, the chief military prosecutor, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, also recommended that Weinstein open an inquiry of those same issues. According to procedure, Weinstein is to provide his response to Lindenstrauss' letter within six months - by the beginning of November. He is not obligated, however, to open an investigation at all.