Criminal Probe in Harpaz Affair? Just Keeping Up Appearances

Moving the investigation of the Harpaz case from military to civilian authorities is merely meant to create the impression that, in the end, there will be an indictment.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Amir Oren
Amir Oren

The Israel Defense Forces is one of the organizations that most endangers the country’s citizenry. Its arms depots leak like a sieve. Criminal gangs order firearms, various war materials and explosives − items that are usually found only in the hands of the most elite units − from soldiers. The most advanced plastic explosive materials − in terms of their power and the difficulty of detecting them − get stolen from the reconnaissance units and resurface in explosions, some of them fatal, on Israeli streets.

The police are outraged by these developments, and at the initiative of a police district commander, a particularly blunt letter was sent last month to the chief of staff and his deputy: Do something.

The ongoing, scandalous negligence in the IDF is a problem of chain of command. Responsibility for it rests with all the top brass, from the chief of staff down to the unit commander, the base commander, the logistics officer and the noncoms who look the other way or help themselves to what they want. But eradicating the problem devolves also on the Investigative Military Police and necessitates complex operations involving identification of recurring features that can be seen to form patterns, targeting of suspects, the use of human agents and a range of other stratagems.

One would expect the Investigative Military Police to devote a maximum effort to this task, but in the past year, the military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, had a completely different objective and gauge of success in mind: Indeed, Case IMP SIU 2/13 ‏(SIU being Special Investigations Unit‏), the appendix to the Harpaz affair, became the flagship case among all the military investigations under his command.

Just three years ago, Efroni was a frustrated colonel who was forced to retire from the IDF as deputy military advocate general because the chief of staff at the time, Gabi Ashkenazi, refused to consider him as a candidate for the top post. He was brought back into the army by former Defense Minister Ehud Barak, with the lukewarm agreement of Ashkenazi’s successor, Benny Gantz.

Efroni came to purify the army of its sins, or of at least one sin of one officer, who in the meantime had also retired: Ashkenazi. He took the materials of the Boaz Harpaz case − involving, in part, a forged document that sought to discredit and block the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as chief of staff − that had been examined by the state comptroller, and insisted on dealing with them in a criminal context: that is, as offenses according to the code of military justice or the penal code.

Efroni’s superior is not the chief of staff, but the attorney general. Until last week, that man, Yehuda Weinstein, disagreed with Efroni. The latter’s wish to launch a police investigation had been rebuffed at the beginning of the year. He then tried to bring the civilian police into the military case by the back door. The outgoing head of the police’s investigations and intelligence branch, Yoav Segalovich, declined to enter.

At the beginning of last week, Segalovich’s admirers and well-wishers for his successor as head of the branch, Maj. Gen. Mani Yitzhaki, gathered at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, a short walk from the police’s national headquarters. Among those present were Weinstein, Efroni, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino and many of the investigators. On that warm afternoon, everyone praised Segalovich and reminded Yitzhaki of what he already knew: the challenge of succeeding an officer who was held in almost universal high regard and affection. Even those whom Segalovich investigated, notably Moshe Katsav in his role as president, were said to bear him no grudge.

It was hard to believe, at that moment, that within four days Yitzhaki, brand new in his post, would agree to what Segalovich had refused over nearly three years.

Efroni rummaged through the tape-recordings of the chief of staff’s bureau, went through his office and examined the phone lines, both military and civilian, from Ashkenazi’s period. He found recordings of conversations whose content is currently under a gag order issued by a military judge. And Weinstein agreed that the findings constitute justification for resuming the investigation and, under the circumstances, for transferring it from the military to the civilian investigative authorities.

An investigation of this sort has no purpose other than creating the prospect, still far from a certainty, that an indictment might be generated at its conclusion. But the likelihood of opening of the investigation of a case is far higher than that of the case going to trial upon its completion.

Case SIU 2/13, which has not yet been renamed by the police, is a flagrant case of selective enforcement. The Harpaz document has shown us the size of the iceberg ‏(its tip and more had already been revealed‏) of the frosty relations between Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkenazi. In fact, one can argue against the very act of transferring information related to a specific organizational reality to a judicial arena.

Dribbling the ball

The material that has already been published regarding this affair, either independently or in the wake of an examination by the state comptroller, is enough to justify, if desired, an investigation of Barak and his associates on suspicion of violation of various clauses of the penal code. For example, abuse of power ‏(freezing the appointment of the coordinator of activities in the territories and of another 150 officers‏), failure to fulfill an official obligation, insulting a public official ‏(publication of incorrect statements against officers and refusal to correct them even after Barak admitted that they were mistaken‏), breach of trust with regard to the government ‏(gross negligence in examining Yoav Galant as a candidate for chief of staff − the examination consisted of asking Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and another party functionary about common practice in moshavim, such as the one Galant lives in‏).

This is an important point, not least because the relations between officers, headed by the chief of staff, and journalists might be one of the focal points of the case. Journalists usually object to the enforcement of the General Staff directive that authorizes only the chief of staff, the head of the Personnel Directorate and the IDF Spokesman to allow contact with the media, for themselves and others. Reporters were thus outraged by the persecution of officers who spoke with them, particularly toward the end of Dan Halutz’s term as chief of staff.

Ashkenazi and his aides are not likely to enjoy that sort of slack from parts of the media. According to their presumed logic, at the conclusion of the next secret conversation that comes from a military source, the correspondent should be expected to whip out a press card and inform the officer that he is turning him over to the Military Police.

Such systemic disorder will have the effect of sending the hearing that is to be held before the attorney general’s decision about an indictment into a tailspin. Ashkenazi’s lawyers will argue that he behaved like any reasonable chief of staff. In order to establish or refute this, the chief of staff’s bureau will have to provide all the tape-recordings from the period of Halutz ‏(he was the first to occupy the new General Staff building with its recording equipment‏), and from the first months of Gantz’s term. If an indictment is filed, all the fascinating material will make its way outside. And if no new indictment is filed, the accused Boaz Harpaz, whose case is in suspended animation, will demand that the materials be imported and then will make sure they are exported.

The trial itself, with the defense calling Ehud Barak to testify, will be the show of the century.

Weinstein is aware of all this. Why, then, is he letting the affair roll on and dribbling the ball into the court of the police? Apparently, because it is easier to close a case at the end ‏(think: Avigdor Lieberman‏) than at the beginning. And maybe Weinstein, two years and a bit before the end of his six-year term ‏(if he stays on‏) feels that it won’t end on his watch. From one professional aspect, not a legal one, his decision is a welcome one: It promises the press a good livelihood.

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi during a 2010 school visit. His lawyers will claim he acted reasonably.Credit: Alon Ron
IDF military advocate general Danny Efroni in 2011. The Harpaz file has been Efroni's flagship case.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Boaz Harpaz in 2010.Credit: Alon Ron
New police investigations head Maj. Gen. Mani Yitzhaki.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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