Ashkenazi's Staff Blamed in Harpaz Report, Say Sources

'Comptroller lets Barak off lightly.'

The bureau of former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi receives the lion's share of the blame for the so-called Harpaz affair in a draft state comptroller's report on the incident, according to sources who have read the report.

The report began as a probe into a document allegedly forged by a friend of Ashkenazi's, Lt. Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz, in an effort to thwart Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's bid to become the next chief of staff. But it expanded into a wider probe of the fraught relationship between Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Sources who have read the draft report said Barak gets off relatively lightly. The report is particularly critical of Ashkenazi's aide, Col. Erez Weiner, saying his conduct does not accord with the spirit of the IDF.

The report listed four main improprieties by Ashkenazi and his staff: the very connection with a dubious character like Harpaz; their failure to sever this connection once Harpaz began giving Weiner material aimed at making Barak and his staff look bad; Ashkenazi's handling of the forged document after he received it; and his bureau's conduct after it was published.

But while State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss aimed much of his criticism at Weiner, he held Ashkenazi responsible for much of Weiner's activity. The report said repeatedly that Weiner was acting on Ashkenazi's behalf, and that Ashkenazi knew about at least some of what Weiner was doing.

Weiner, the report said, acted as a kind of secret agent, seeking to gather information about Barak's bureau via Harpaz. Both Ashkenazi and Weiner thought Harpaz was giving them reliable information, it added, but in reality, Lindenstrauss found no evidence that Harpaz ever talked with anyone in Barak's bureau. His "sources" were people from other parts of the defense establishment.

The report did find that on two occasions in May 2010, Ashkenazi ordered Weiner to stop getting material from Harpaz. But in practice, both Weiner and Ashkenazi's wife, Ronit, continued doing so, and Ashkenazi continued receiving the information from them. This included information about suspected ties between Barak's bureau chief, Yoni Koren, and the New Israel Fund, and about whether Barak's wife, Nili Priell, had earned her frequent flyer points legitimately.

Such behavior, Lindenstrauss said, is "completely unacceptable," especially since Ashkenazi and Weiner both occupied senior military posts in which they were supposed to be serving the public rather than looking out for their own interests. Even worse, the draft report said, is that Barak was the minister to whom the chief of staff is supposed to be subordinate.

The report noted that after Channel 2 television published the forged document on August 6, there were several three-way conversations between Ashkenazi, Weiner and Harpaz on August 7 and 8, even though they knew the police might open an investigation (which it did on August 8 ), and thus they shouldn't be discussing the case. Weiner and Ashkenazi later told both the comptroller and the police that Ashkenazi used these conversations to tell the others they should tell the whole truth.

Lindenstrauss also criticized Ashkenazi for his failure to immediately give his copy of the document to the police, at a time when police were waging a legal battle to force Channel 2 to give them its copy. Only on August 11 did Ashkenazi hand over his copy, which the comptroller termed "a surprising and inappropriate delay." Lindenstrauss found it particularly strange that on August 10, Ashkenazi called Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and said, "I opened the papers this morning and saw that you're looking for the document" - as if he didn't know police had been looking for the document for at least two days by then.

After it became clear that the document was a forgery, and Harpaz confessed to forging it (a confession he has since retracted ), Ashkenazi "substantially downplayed" his relationship with Harpaz in his public statements on the matter, as well as in his statements to the police and to fellow army officers, the draft report found. He thereby gave a very partial picture of their relationship rather than the full picture, Lindenstrauss said.

The report also criticized the way Barak's bureau treated Ashkenazi, and particularly Koren's crass statements about Weiner. But it rejected many of the allegations made by Ashkenazi, including that Barak had deliberately prevented him from meeting Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar - an allegation that got wide media coverage at the time.

Ashkenazi's associates responded by emphasizing all the allegations that Lindenstrauss didn't find evidence of - like a planned putsch against Barak, any involvement by Ashkenazi in forging or leaking the document, or any business ties between Ashkenazi's family and Harpaz. They also complained about a fundamental imbalance in the probe. It rested mainly on tapes from Ashkenazi's bureau, where it was standard practice to record all conversations. In contrast, Barak's bureau recorded almost none of its conversations, and an equipment failure led to some of those that were recorded being erased.

Ashkenazi continues to insist that while he made mistakes, the report does him an injustice. His lawyers are now examining the comptroller's evidence with an eye to asking him to alter his findings in his final report.