A Relationship Ruined by Infighting

Everything would have been avoided had the prime minister acted as a leader, imposing authority on the defense minister and the chief of staff. But in those days, Israel enjoyed neither leadership nor a prime minister, and those days have yet to pass.

Since the Harpaz affair became public some 18 months ago, discussion has tended to focus on who said what to whom, when and where. The saga revolves around Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz and a document he allegedly forged in a bid to discredit Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's efforts to become the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. Yet that discussion just scratches the surface of the trash; machinations hatched by top security officials represent an issue whose significance is not confined to one document.

The actual document was meant to look as if Galant had hired a PR firm a rubbish his rivals for the IDF leadership. In fact, the document represents the result of ugly relations at the top of the security establishment and is a kind of written account of an oral religion.

Its fate is like that of a retroactively-drafted manuscript of a briefing, which a journalist commits to record, with the name of the main brief-giver appearing at the top of the transcript. Understandably, if asked, the brief-giver will deny that he ever wrote the document, or will deny that the transcript of his remarks is accurate. Should the journalist's document be leaked - deliberately or furtively - one side in the dispute will claim that everything in it is perfectly accurate; the rival side will say that the document is a forgery, particularly since it bears a logo that doesn't belong to it. And both parties in the dispute will be partially correct.

The Basic Law: The Military was adopted in 1976 and stemmed from events in the winter of 1973. The Agranat Committee report into the Yom Kippur War exposed and exacerbated tensions between the defense minister and the IDF Chief of Staff. Moshe Dayan, who had served as chief of staff during the protracted Lavon affair which began in the mid-1950s - an affair that resulted in the removal of Dayan's superior (defense minister Pinhas Lavon ), and David Ben-Gurion's return from Sde Boker to political activity.

In the early '70s Dayan complained that, as defense minister, he was compelled to accept David Elazar's appointment as chief of staff. This claim represented a characteristic act of disingenuous minimization of influence on behalf of the defense minister - it suggested that the only parties responsible for the appointment of the army head were the prime minster (his superior ), and the current IDF Chief of Staff (subordinate to him).

The Basic Law stipulated that the chief of staff, along with the army's top command staff, are all subordinate to the government and the defense minister - who is the minister representing government policy toward the army. Also that the chief of staff is appointed by the government on the basis of a recommendation presented by the defense minister. The prime minister is not mentioned in the law, though the person who serves as prime minister is understood to have supreme responsibility to the Knesset and the public. Ministers assume shared responsibility for security (and other ) matters.

In 2010, though then-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was, by dint of his position, the top military commander subordinate to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, or to Amir Peretz before him, the defense minister is not the "political leadership" also referred to in this law, but is, instead, just part of that leadership. The chief of staff must remain loyal to cabinet ministers just as loyalty is required in his relations with his subordinates. Between the chief of staff, major generals and others, reciprocal ties of loyalty are supposed to tie the military together, up and down the chain of command.

Officers ousted from the army by Ashkenazi make tough allegations against him; these accusations are no less severe than complaints leveled by the former chief of staff against Ehud Barak. One of the tragedies that stems from the way ambitions are parceled out in this system is that the pride of any victory is immediately tarnished by worries about getting credit, and about what tomorrow might bring.

Almost every top IDF officer is paranoid. Anything threatens these officers. The moment one of them becomes chief of staff, he expects rival candidates to quit the army. Before he warms his chair, he takes defensive measures to ward off ambitious major generals.

Ashkenazi was bested by Dan Halutz in a previous bid to become chief of staff in 2005, while Barak was ousted from positions as prime minister and defense minister. Yet they both returned from the political-security wilderness to top spots in the security system acutely anxious about possible rivals, and swinging fists in every direction.

Ashkenazi recoiled from Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, and Barak loathed Ashkenazi. Of the two, Barak's acts were particularly problematic. In spring 2010, instead of thoroughly evaluating the parameters and recommending to the government whose vote (not his recommendation ) had deciding power concerning Galant's appointment, Barak followed an ingenuous course of staging a phony appointment competition, in a fashion that needlessly humiliated Ashkenazi and major generals (as described in the fake document supposedly supplied by Harpaz). As usual, instead of acting directly and simply, Barak made matters worse.

Galant's subsequent disqualification - in a process involving the High Court, the State Comptroller's Office and the government attorney general after allegations that he had taken public lands near his home for his personal use - means Barak infringed his obligation toward the government, and failed to fully review the candidate's qualifications for the most important policy-execution office in the security system. This is a life and death matter, not merely one of manners and verbal sparring and mutual incrimination.

Everything would have been avoided had the prime minister acted as a leader, imposing his authority on the defense minister and the chief of staff. But in those days, Israel enjoyed neither leadership nor a prime minister, and those days have yet to pass.