Military Advocate General Danny Efroni brought a detailed document to Thursday’s meeting at the Justice Ministry that launched a criminal investigation into former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. A few days earlier, people who had spoken with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said Weinstein would continue opposing Efroni’s recommendation for a criminal investigation, but Efroni’s document, based on recordings made in Ashkenazi’s office, changed everything.
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Weinstein and Maj. Gen. Menachem Yitzhaki, the head of Lahav 433, the police’s new investigative unit, changed their minds, and Efroni got what he wanted. Ashkenazi’s conversations, which became the focus of a state comptroller probe, are now the heart of a police investigation. It seems the police investigators found more than the state comptroller’s people did. The comptroller’s people more strictly limited what they would listen to.
The comptroller’s report stressed the link between Ashkenazi’s assistant, Col. Erez Weiner, and Ashkenazi’s close associate, Boaz Harpaz. The comptroller found that these two men had worked together to gather information that smeared then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak, with Ashkenazi’s partial knowledge.
The recorded conversations are being examined from a much broader angle now — one that raises suspicions against Ashkenazi and a former IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen (res.) Avi Benayahu, who are expected to be questioned under caution.
To determine the value of the new findings (while taking into account the restrictions imposed by a gag order), we need to go back to 2009 and 2010, when the recordings were made. The media concentrated on the tension between Barak and Ashkenazi, which reached a peak in the clash over Barak’s intention to appoint Yoav Galant to succeed Ashkenazi as chief of staff.
Another disagreement concerned the debate on whether to attack Iran. In this, the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu-Ehud Barak camp opposed the more moderate Ashkenazi, then-Mossad chief Meir Dagan and then-Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin. Also in this camp were President Shimon Peres and several members of the forum seven senior ministers.
The new recordings are expected to add details on another aspect of the tensions — Ashkenazi’s political future. Back in 2009 and 2010, Ashkenazi was depicted as the great hope of the center-left bloc, someone who could defeat Netanyahu in the future. The story also seems to be linked to the newspaper wars: Yedioth Ahronoth vs. Israel Hayom, which translates into Yedioth Ahronoth vs. Netanyahu. Even recently, Netanyahu talked about Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes as if he were talking about the Iran threat.
Ashkenazi will say that every office does it. If the investigators listened in on other offices of senior people, they’d hear their share of gossip, smears and intrigue. That’s what happens when you probe the innards of a large organization, but what does that have to do with a criminal indictment?
In this context, consider the statements by legal sources quoted by Ben Caspit in Friday’s Sof Hashavua, a Hebrew-language magazine. Caspit, who has written dozens of columns condemning Barak for his involvement in the affair, wrote that the new investigation involves allegations of “running other people” besides Harpaz and “planning a future political campaign” for Ashkenazi. It won’t be surprising if Netanyahu takes an interest.
Many other people have been waiting to see Ashkenazi get into trouble. Not only Barak, but also Galant as well as Moshe Tamir and Imad Fares, brigadier generals he dismissed. The move to a criminal investigation has set the snowball rolling.
So far, the Ashkenazi camp has kept up a united front, except for the defection of Harpaz. In May 2012, Harpaz sent an accusation-filled letter to the state comptroller and attorney general, which the latter has ignored. But unlike the state comptroller’s probe, a police investigation puts everyone involved at risk. The investigators will search for cracks in the front around Ashkenazi, and that’s not his only problem.
Until now, only Efroni and the Criminal Investigation Division possessed the recordings – and they made sure not to leak them. But the police don’t have a good reputation as far as leaks go. It looks like it won’t be long before Ashkenazi’s conversations, in the form of transcripts and recordings, become common currency in the media.