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General's Stolen Computer Is a Personal Test for Israeli Army Chief

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Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Gadi Eisenkot stands before one of the knottiest dilemmas he’s faced since taking office as chief of staff a year and a half ago.

As a policy, Eisenkot is a stickler for military procedures, especially the strict procedures touching on data security. At the same time, he gives the message that in his view, all are equal before the law, and an officer who errs shouldn’t be treated leniently based on past merit or achievement.

Eisenkot demonstrated the way he thinks just recently, at first by voiding the appointment of Brig. Gen. Ofek Buchris to head the strategically vital IDF Operations Division, following charges of sexual misconduct. Then, on Tuesday, speaking at a school in Acre, he talked about the need to prevent sexual harassment and spoke heatedly about false reports in the military.

The case of Hagai Topolansky, head of the Israel Defense Forces Manpower Directorate, is utterly different in gravity from the Buchris case. Based on the information permissible for publication on Wednesday morning (a day and more after the event), some time Monday night, Brig. Gen. Topolansky’s house was burgled. Among the stolen property was an army computer.

Maj. Gen Hagai Topolansky stands accused of taking his computer containing sensitive information out of an IDF base.Credit: Adi Bar-on / IDF Spokesperson's Unit

IDF directives categorically forbid officers to remove computers, certainly classified ones, from a military base to their personal domicile. The grounds are precisely that sensitive information could go missing and possibly reach the enemy.

In recent years, under Eisenkot (and his predecessors Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi), not a few top brass found themselves in court over offenses of this ilk. In some cases, colonels found their appointments voided too, because of stolen computers leading to data leaks. But this case is very close to home. Topolansky isn’t just a very, very senior officer, he’s one of the closest to the chief of staff, by virtue of his job and his temperament too. Eisenkot had him earmarked to command the Israel Air Force in the past, though then decided to name Gen. Amikam Norkin, who had been head of the planning division.

This is Eisenkot’s dilemma: If he gives Topolansky gentler treatment than the errant colonels, then not all are equal before the law – a message the chief of staff does not want to deliver. However, Topolansky really is one of the most impressive officers near the top and he handles a number of extremely sensitive subjects for Eisenkot, from a new model for army career service to religious issues.

Topolansky’s positions on these questions, and about removing the “Jewish awareness” division from the military rabbinate and other things such as males and females serving in the army together, have already set the rabbis against him in the last couple of years. As head of personnel, Topolansky has taken many an arrow on behalf of the chief of staff.

To date, it doesn’t seem that Topolansky received any special treatment. On Wednesday he will be summoned for questioning under caution by the Military Police. But the issue at stake in this affair is discipline, which boils down to a decision by the chief of staff. Eisenkot may decide that the principle of equality is above all and if the stolen computer turns out to have had sensitive information in it, he could fire Topolansky. Of course, Topolansky himself is due to step down from his present position in about a year, and could decide to simply resign.

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