Barak Begins Search for Next IDF Chief

Fight for upcoming appointment strains Barak-Ashkenazi ties, who also disagree over the implications of the Gaza flotilla investigations.

The chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima ) is considering an investigation to identify the source of the leak to Haaretz on details of a closed meeting of the committee's members and the team comprising the committee investigating the Gaza-bound flotilla under Gen. (Res ) Giora Eiland.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak

The report on the details of the meeting stirred a political storm and has resulted in an exchange of accusations between those around Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and the aides of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Haaretz quoted from a document in which the conclusions of a meeting of the committee were registered. The meeting was held in Tel Aviv on July 22.

One of the persons quoted, Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, a member of the Eiland committee investigating the flotilla incident, said that during the discussion the main blame for the fiasco lay with the Israel Defense Forces "and cannot be passed on to the political leadership."

Kochavi did make it clear that he was referring to what had happened after the political leadership had decided that the flotilla needed to be stopped by military means. Nonetheless, the statement was perceived as backing the position of the defense minister in the flotilla incident.

Relations between Barak and Ashkenazi deteriorated over their differences on the appointment of a new chief of staff and are also tense over the implications of the investigations into the flotilla incident. There are a total of four investigations, including the Jacob Turkel and state comptroller investigations and two United Nations probes.

Senior IDF sources blamed the bureau of the defense minister for leaking the document and said that Barak was the only one who could benefit from such an action.

The sources said the only person who kept orderly notes during the deliberations was the deputy military secretary of Barak, Col. Shlomi Am-Shalom, whose presence at the meeting 'appeared strange from the start'.

Barak's bureau rejected any possible connection with the leak to Haaretz.