Amir Oren / A Paper Tiger

What's needed is a tripartite summit among Netanyahu, Barak and Ashkenazi at which they would choose a mutually acceptable successor to Ashkenazi.

The Israel Police last night patented a fantastic new law-enforcement invention: determining who didn't commit a crime.

Most people generally expect the police to complete an investigation by offering conclusions that, pending approval by the State Prosecutor's Office, will turn into an indictment, after which a court of law will determine whether someone is a criminal.

This time it's all backward. Case 303, named after the International Fraud Squad division that handled it, remains under wraps despite considerable public interest in it. The list that has been released to the public is not of suspects, but of those exonerated.

But what actually happened here? At some point in the spring, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi received a document of the kind the Chinese would term a paper tiger. The tiger had the body of a carnivore, but the colorful fur of a public-relations firm. That fur, police announced yesterday, is fake.

The police know who was involved in the document that arrived at Channel 2, even if it remains unclear just who put the paper together. The forger, police said, was neither Ashkenazi nor his rival, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, nor Yoav Galant or his rivals to become the next chief of staff, Gadi Eizenkot and Benny Gantz. Great. Not only have the forgers yet to be exposed, but the tiger (now shorn of its fur and declawed ) continues to live and breathe.

Had Ashkenazi received the same document, but without the logo linking it to a public relations firm, his response - like those of other generals who perused it - would have been similar, if not identical. The document didn't create a firestorm, it just reflected the chaos that already existed at defense headquarters.

The enmity that fills the General Staff - between the Ashkenazi faction of Eizenkot and Gantz and the one-man band embodied by Galant - was not born with the document and will not die with a police announcement. Even if no crime was committed, it's a stretch to conclude no misconduct was committed.

And as if the police's bizarre statement weren't enough, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has stepped in and allowed Barak to resume the process that led to the document's release in the first place: holding meetings with candidates to become chief of chief, at the end of which the lucky winner will be announced.

It's good that the IDF chief of staff isn't selected by a General Staff vote. He isn't the pope, and the generals aren't cardinals.

The elected political leadership is authorized to choose an officer to head the military. But the behavior of the defense minister - and of that other politician whose survival depends on Barak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - stains the selection process indelibly.

If Barak insists on playing the opportunist and revealing the identity of his favorite candidate within days, he could bring about one of two problematic situations - Ashkenazi's resignation, or a balance of terror with the chief of staff that would last until the end of the latter's tenure in mid-February.

What's needed is a tripartite summit among Netanyahu, Barak and Ashkenazi at which they would choose a mutually acceptable successor to Ashkenazi. It could be on October 1, the first day after the High Holidays. That date is earlier than Ashkenazi wants and later than Barak wants - a lovely compromise.

The time until then may be best exploited by submitting the CVs of all the candidates to the committee charged with vetting senior civil servants, a panel headed by - who else? - Jacob Turkel.