Cheshin Rules: Mofaz Is Out for the Count

In the race forward, many - though not Cheshin - forgot that the cooling-off period for officers prior to entering politics was meant to apply to membership in the cabinet as well as the Knesset.

Attorney Amnon Lorch, the Labor Party's representative to the Central Elections Commission, is the son of Netanel Lorch, the father of historical research in the Israel Defense Forces, and before that, adjutant to the second chief of staff, Yigael Yadin. Attorney Avigdor "Dori" Klagsblad is the son-in-law of Shabtai Teveth, David Ben-Gurion's biographer. Teveth wrote that in the early years of the state, Ben-Gurion believed that Yadin was a worthy candidate to move from the IDF to the Defense Ministry (Yadin turned the job down), and that two Ben-Gurion loyalists asked Yadin to lead a military coup (Yadin turned that down, too).

The first act in the drama took place on August 11, at the innocent initiative of one Miriam Zaritsky, an officer in the Manpower Division. Up until a few months ago, Colonel Zaritsky served as head of the retirement department. Mofaz gave her an additional, more important job, as head of the general staff's personnel department. She was preceded by a more senior officer in that job, Brigadier General Avner Barazani, who left the army and was most recently spotted as head of Mofaz's campaign in the Likud. In the more distant past, he serve as adjutant to the then head of the IDF's Northern Command, Yitzhak Mordechai. The Supreme Court upheld Mordechai's conviction for sexually assaulting an officer while heading the Northern Command, but not a single person in the senior echelon of the defense establishment has yet condemned Mordechai - not Mofaz, as chief of staff and later defense minister, not Ya'alon, not Finkelstein, who was asked about it by Ya'alon, who will now have the question rolled back to him.

Zaritsky has an original hobby - she collects calling cards from Israel and the world. Last week she showed off her collection to the IDF weekly Bamahane and told the reporter that she always checks pay phones to see if someone left behind a rare card for her collection. Mofaz did not need a pay phone: He called her that evening from his army phone, just as he called Ya'alon and other senior officers, to tell them that he had decided to cut short his retirement vacation and be released from the army that day, not next year or at the end of August.

Zaritsky offered Mofaz "a fiction," as Justice Cheshin put it yesterday: The retirement document would say that Mofaz was a career officer until July 31. That way he would receive NIS 10,000 - the difference between a full month's pension and the 11 salaried days that had elapsed in August - because the computer would not accept two different kinds of payment in the same month. Zaritsky's ruling on the release papers "was inaccurate," Cheshin said yesterday. However, added the justice, Mofaz and Zaritsky "acted innocently and without the intention to deceive."

Maybe not in August, but in November and December, there was a worrying dilution of innocence in Mofaz's intentions. On the day he got out of the army, there was no significant difference between August 11 and the date Zaritsky assigned him "in coordination" with Mofaz, as Zaritsky testified. That summer, it was only more evidence of the distressing lack of civilian supervision of the army, which does whatever it wants with its budget, changing it as it sees fit, turning August into July. And who would supervise? Defense ministers and Defense Ministry director-generals, who are also IDF retirees, former chiefs of staff and retired generals whose own pensions grow along with officers' pay?

In the fall, when any date before July 28 meant that Mofaz was kosher for the Knesset but two weeks later made him definitely treife, hiding behind Zaritsky's documents was blatant deception. Mofaz knew very well when he had ceased to be an officer in the army, with a car and loyal driver and bodyguards. He hoped, upon the foolish advice of lawyers, that when the issue came up in the CEC, nobody would "raise the curtain" - i.e. ask too many questions - and the fictitious document would be accepted at face value.

Leaping over the law

Ya'alon knew this, and was silent, further eroding the moral leadership of the senior echelons of the army. Finkelstein (Menachem, not Arthur) also knew, and was silent - he made do with a request that the army "examine the custom" of false registration of retirement dates. Someone for whom the Hebrew calendar is very important - and there is nobody who specializes in that corner of the law like Rubinstein and Finkelstein - suggested that the months be counted from Av to Shvat instead of July to February, "a rather odd proposal," as Cheshin put it yesterday. But the Prime Minister's Office loved the idea, the attorney general provided the legal groundwork, and Mofaz exuded confidence that he would gracefully leap over the hurdles of the law.

Within a few days, Mofaz turned from someone who claimed that he was not at all interested in politics to someone who had been "called to the flag," accepting Sharon's offer to take up the defense portfolio "as a professional appointment" - and then to someone who could already see his next job on the horizon, as prime minister. For this he needed to get elected to Knesset, which meant winning a slot on the Likud list.

In the race forward, many - though not Cheshin - forgot that the cooling-off period for officers prior to entering politics was meant to apply to membership in the cabinet as well as the Knesset. In his verdict yesterday, Cheshin quoted MK Moshe Arens, who expressed concern over "senior officers showing up shortly after removing their uniforms as members of Knesset or the cabinet." Arens, who initiated the cooling-off law, wanted a year as a cooling-off period, from brigadier generals on up. But supporters of Effi Eitam - who quit the army angrily after Mofaz refused to promote him - forced a compromise. Thus the cooling-off period applies only from major generals on up, and it is not for a year, but for six months.

The effort on behalf of Eitam ultimately benefited Mofaz, who spoke with Sharon about political options while he was still in the army and joined the government - as defense minister, of all jobs - only three months minus a week after leaving the army. The law, wrote Cheshin, "sought to build a wall, a very high wall, to distinguish and separate high-ranking army officers from legislators." But what is the Aswan Dam or the Hoover Dam in the face of Mofaz's hunger?

And to deepen the hole he dug for himself, Mofaz insisted on turning every dispute into hostility. He has yet to learn the basic lesson of politics: to work with people and make them like you. Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz had some reservations about Mofaz going so quickly to the Knesset, but he stepped up his opposition after Mofaz demanded that MK Haim Ramon, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, "either silence or evict" Paz during a briefing Mofaz gave to the committee. And there were other times when Mofaz was more alienating than accommodating.

The chief of staff's office tried to block Lorch's trip to the truth, saying it would only respond to Cheshin. But in the end it was forced to answer Lorch's questions. JAG Finkelstein turned himself into little more than a courier. Cheshin asked him to report "the details" of Mofaz's retirement, giving the dates and events. But Finkelstein only passed over a letter from Zaritsky to the JAG's assistant for legislation and promised that "the officer herself (Zaritsky) will be available for any further clarification, if she is asked." Finkelstein himself had nothing to say. Last night he was asked whether he had advised Mofaz on his eligibility for the Knesset in general, and on the Hebrew calendar solution in particular. His response has yet to arrive. "It was never in Colonel Zaritsky's purview, neither in her authority nor in her power, to put Mofaz into a wonder machine, or a wonder tunnel, that sends a person into the past," said Cheshin yesterday as he rejected Klagsblad's defense.

Mofaz needed the past for his future, and he will not give up. He will not slow down until Cheshin's colleagues on the Supreme Court put the matter into their own words.

There has already been a Likud minister of defense who was urgently called back from Washington to fill the job suddenly vacated, under circumstances that involved Sharon. That defense minister also was not an MK, and when the elections were advanced, he lost the portfolio to Labor's representative, a retired senior officer. That minister was Moshe Arens, who was called back from the embassy in Washington after Sharon was thrown out of the Defense Ministry, and remained a member of the cabinet in the Peres-Shamir government after the defense portfolio went to Yitzhak Rabin.

The vow to leave Mofaz in the Defense Ministry is not as weighty as Sharon's vow to survive politically. Without Labor, he will have trouble with the Bush administration, and Labor will not be foolish enough to join if the defense portfolio is not handed over to Amram Mitzna, or at least to one of his representatives - such as Mofaz's friend, Matan Vilnai, the former deputy chief of staff who was passed over by Mordechai in favor of Mofaz for the chief of staff's job.

In another, more properly run country, Mofaz would have resigned from the Defense Ministry yesterday in the wake of Cheshin's verdict and its reasoning. But not in Israel. Here, the speeding record is held by the move form chief of staff to defense minister - and sometimes by the move from inferiority complex to megalomania.