What Will IDF Chief Ashkenazi Say About Iran as He Leaves Office?

Clashes among army brass reveal undeclared wars in the defense establishment.

The series of conflicts and disputes in the upper ranks of the defense establishment, which had been central in the agendas of its leadership during the past year, will only intensify over the next two years. The first sign will come this morning with the High Court of Justice deliberation on the petition of environmentalist groups against the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as the next chief of staff. But this is just the beginning. Below is a brief guide to the confrontations that are driving generals, and politicians alike, out of their minds:

* The chief of staff-designate and public land: Galant is expected to take over his new duties in a month, on February 14. The environmentalists would like to block the appointment on the basis of an investigative report by Kalman Liebeskind of Maariv, in which he claimed that the chief of staff-designate had taken over public land and carved out roads near his home in Moshav Amikam. The environmentalists claim that the committee on senior civil service appointments, headed by retire Judge Jacob Turkel, did not thoroughly examine the findings in the report before quickly approving Galant's appointment.

ashkenazi - Moti Milrod - August 31 2010
Moti Milrod

If the High Court decides to intervene at a juncture so near the change of chief of staff, this would be a dramatic development. However, Galant's rivals in the General Staff (and there are plenty ) find it hard to believe that the appointment will be voided. An interim solution, in view of the rushed process by the committee, is that the justices will return the matter to their former colleague, Turkel, asking the committee to take a closer look at the findings. However this would introduce another consideration, which the court cannot acknowledge directly - concern this step would undermine the standing of Turkel, who is currently also heading the investigation of the takeover of the Gaza-bound flotilla last May. (See story, Page 2 )

*  The Mavi Marmara investigation: The Turkel Committee probe of the incident will present the first part of its final report in the next two weeks. The committee will, at this stage, deal with two main issues: the degree to which the naval blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip is legal, and the legality of the commando raid on the flotilla in which nine Turkish Islamist activists were killed.

In the government there is hope that the committee, along with the criticism it had voiced on different issues, will back Israel's claim that it had full authority to take action in blocking the entry of ships into Gaza, which it had not approved. The catch: If the High Court says that Turkel did not do his job in the Galant affair, what would that say about his conclusions on the flotilla incident?

Turkel is not the only one investigating the flotilla incident. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss is expected to complete his own report in the coming month and deliver the draft to the bodies being assessed for a response. In the defense establishment there's a belief that Lindenstrauss will be highly critical of the decision-making process prior to the operation, both at the political and the senior military levels.

* The Harpaz affair: The state comptroller is expected to also complete by next month his report on the Harpaz document affair, which will also deal extensively with the process of appointing a new chief of staff and the terrible relationship between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the incumbent, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. [Lt.-Col. Boaz Harpaz (res ) admitted to forging a document affecting the selection of the chief of staff, and there are questions about his closeness to Ashkenazi and what the latter knew.] Lindenstrauss is also looking into Galant's land affair, as a result of information he received from Minister Michael Eitan, who accepted the conclusions of the Maariv report.

On this issue, the comptroller steps into a particularly sensitive area. The tension between Barak and Ashkenazi is tremendous, and both expect that Lindenstrauss will absolve them - passing on responsibility to their rival. Normally, three or four months pass between the distribution of the draft to those involved and the publication of the final report. This time, it is doubtful whether the state comptroller will benefit from such privilege. The law may forbid the publication of the draft report, but that does not particularly interest either side. We can assume that incriminating material in the draft will find its way to the media, even if not presented overtly as being the conclusions of the comptroller.

* The disputes between the minister and the chief of staff: Barak and Ashkenazi have not put their swords aside as they await the comptroller's conclusions. In fact, the two do not miss an opportunity to have a go at each other. Last week, a new confrontation between their bureaus erupted over the nature of the party that the army is planning for Ashkenazi on the eve of the changeover in chief of staff. Apparently in the minister's bureau they did not like the extensive list of invitees and were concerned the event would overshadow the traditional reception that Barak will hold in honor of Galant and Ashkenazi the next day.

This dispute seems to have died down, but now there is a new cause for tension. In a few weeks, even before the comptroller's draft report is ready, the first book on the Harpaz affair and the relations between Barak and Ashkenazi is due to be published. Ashkenazi, who did not meet with the authors, fears the book will support Barak's version of events, and that Galant will mark him as the "bad guy" in what has come to pass.

* And one minor matter of principle: Meir Dagan, who just ended an eight-year tenure as Mossad chief, dropped a bombshell into Israel's public discourse when he predicted last week that Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear capability before the middle of the decade and warned against a rushed entry into an unnecessary war. One may assume that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were not pleased with Dagan's insight (and Yedioth Aharonoth claimed yesterday that Netanyahu chastised Barak ). What is clear is that Dagan's public statements have greatly hamstrung the assessments of the political echelon on a possible future strike on Iran. Ashkenazi, according to most analysts, saw eye-to-eye with Dagan on the major security-related issues. We have one month to go to see whether the incumbent chief of staff will choose to behave like his colleague from the Mossad in his outgoing statements.