Israel's defense establishment has been in over its head during the last two weeks. Not with Iran, believe it or not, but with a bloody battle between Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.
The materials published over the last few days have been especially juicy:
Barak explains to the State Comptroller that one general is kowtowing, and describes another as slightly naive.Ashkenazi’s former assistant and other associates discuss ways to break into the e-mail of Barak’s own chief of staff.
This petty back-and-forth has kept the media very busy.
Now Israel has a small Watergate of our own, complete with confidential records, transcripts of private discussions, central witnesses switching sides, and deleted recordings.
What is all the fuss about? Here is the “Harpaz Affair” – a concise guide for beginners.
How did it start?
Barak and Ashkenazi came into conflict over Operation Cast Lead, which took place in Gaza in early 2009. Basically, it was a conflict over credit: Who was deserving of public praise for the operation’s success, and the restoration of IDF honor following the Second Lebanon War?
Later, Ashkenazi and Barak quarreled over General Yoav Galant. Barak wanted to name Galant as Ashkenazi’s successor. Ashkenazi, who despises Galant, preferred that General Gadi Eizenkot replace him as IDF Chief of Staff.
Thus the Harpaz document was born. A document surfaced, detailing false plans among the Barak camp to launch a mudslinging campaign against Askhenazi.
A police investigation ensued, and the counterfeiter was identified as Lt. Col. Boaz Harpaz, a reserve officer and associate of Ashkenazi.
Afterwards, the State Comptroller also began looking into the matter. The Comptroller is of the opinion that Ashkenazi's assistant, Colonel Erez Weiner, impelled Harpaz to collect incriminating information about Barak, Galant, and others – and that Ashkenazi had at least partial knowledge of this. Askenazi and Weiner deny these claims, of course.
Why do they hate each other so much?
Barak, who is not especially cherished by the public, suspected Ashkenazi of building himself up as a political alternative to Barak, at the former’s expense. Barak proceeded to put Ashkenazi through a series of petty, public humiliations. Ashkenazi, who seems to suffer from a case of heightened sensitivity over his personal honor, took offense.
Then, it really became personal: Recordings reveal that Ashkenazi’s associates were digging through Barak’s personal affairs, hoping to collect incriminating information about him. Now, Ashkenazi is accusing Barak of obsessing over him. Barak accuses Ashkenazi of sabotage and subterfuge. It’s safe to assume they’re both right.
Why is it so important?
Because Ashkenazi is probably going to enter politics, once his “cooling-off” period - required of all senior IDF officials before making such a move - ends in slightly more than a year; because the affair wastes quite a bit of time on the part of upper-echelon defense officials - time better spent on issues like Iran, Syria, and Hamas; because it sheds quite a bit of light on the behavior of people making life-and-death decisions that affect all of us; because this whole messy affair is hurting IDF morale.
If this is how the senior defense officials behave – why should the platoon commander do what he’s told?
How will it end?
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss informed the High Court of Justice last week that he would make every effort to conclude his findings on the affair by the end of his term on July 3.
Despite his promise, there's slim chance that Lindenstrauss will meet that deadline. It is safer to assume that the findings will be released by the time the next comptroller is already in office, toward the end of the summer.
In the meantime, the attorney general is refusing to renew the legal investigation into the affair, despite new and alarming evidence being provided by the Comptroller.
Ashkenazi, in any case, won’t accept the verdict. He knows that the final report could be destructive to his public career, and thus will attempt to slander the Comptroller’s position.
The bottom line: Barak will be hit with some fallout, but Ashkenazi will suffer a direct blow. The affair is expected to continue for many months after the release of the final report, with more and more transcripts, finger-pointing, and conspiracy theories finding their way into the newspapers.
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