It's All Personal

The Galant document affair is personal at this point - Barak versus Ashkenazi. Both men fear the repercussions could bring them down, while outsiders have stinging criticism for all involved.

At this point, the Harpaz-Galant affair is entirely a political matter. Along with Israel Defense Forces top brass, politicians, police investigators and investigators from the State Comptroller's Office, a whole phalanx of professional consultants, confidantes, public relations spinmeisters and journalists are involved in the affair. It would not be a surprise to find out that private investigators are involved now, too.

The affair centers around the so-called Galant document, which details a purported plan by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to get GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant appointed the next chief of staff.

Boaz Harpaz (Alon Ron)
Alon Ron

Police investigators are planning to finish their probe into the document soon, while the state comptroller has just begun working on the case. Meanwhile, a mud-slinging campaign continues apace. Barak's popularity level has dropped sharply in polls, following his clash with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and he is worried his political career might be over. Ashkenazi, for his part, fears that the blot of the past few months may impinge on any future public service.

Associates of them both spend a large part of their time these days waging war on behalf of the two men. Incriminating materials are collected and disseminated via emissaries. Many of the embarrassing media reports in recent weeks were clearly planted by partisan elements. Only a fraction of the information connected to this affair reaches journalists without the intervention of these "agents." The war between the two offices, that of the defense minister and that of the chief of staff, relies on deniability and layers of defense.

Escalating the hostilities is the desire by several military and political officials to get rid of the defense minister, the Labor Party's incredibly unpopular chief. Barak views the Galant document affair as a putsch intended to oust him, and he thinks that the incoming chief of staff, Yoav Galant, is also a victim of the scheme. Barak thinks that dealing systematically with the findings and implications of the police investigation is a matter of national interest.

Next week, Barak and Ashkenazi will meet separately with State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, and with the head of the defense desk at his office, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Ya'akov Or. Barak may also accept the comptroller's request and dismiss the investigatory panel he established, which is headed by Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yitzhak Brik.

When the state comptroller's investigation began, the media described it as the reopening of the chief of staff appointment process, but this appears to be misleading. The state comptroller will examine the Galant affair from top to bottom, looking at the formulation of the document and suspicions that it was forged; Lt. Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz, who allegedly executed the forgery; and several other angles. Should it be determined that the document reflects a genuine action plan by associates of Galant and Barak, this would lead to a serious probe of the appointment process. At this point, however, the state comptroller's investigation seems to be going in the opposite direction: Harpaz's status and influence, and his connections to Ashkenazi.

Unofficially, police investigators have suggested that Harpaz's intention in forging the document, whether on his own, or perhaps with collaborators, was to guarantee that Ashkenazi would be granted a fifth year in his post (which Harpaz allegedly believed would have benefited him, personally ). At this stage, the investigation has not uncovered evidence to back a contradictory hypothesis widely held in the IDF: that Eyal Arad's office logo was forged but that the document's text is authentic, collated reliably by Harpaz during his contacts with the defense ministry.

The police investigation's findings suggest Harpaz is sitting on the lid of a Pandora's Box. Investigators believe Harpaz is a highly sophisticated individual, a manipulator and possibly manipulated, with a thick web of contacts with top IDF officers, journalists and others.

The comptroller could decide to examine possible connections between the Barak-Ashkenazi-Galant triangle and other affairs that caused tumult in the IDF during the past two years, including the trial and ousting of Brig. Gen. Moshe Tamir. One lingering issue is Harpaz's behavior, both during his term of military service and after his ouster from active service in 2004.

Recently, testimony has surfaced of possible irregular use of IDF intelligence resources, including vehicles and study clearances. There are serious suspicions involving computers that apparently were at Harpaz's disposal: classified documents were saved on these computers, and someone may have tried to erase some of them. The testimony suggests that Harpaz was au courant, and also possibly an active party, in intelligence-appointment processes and promotions.

Last week, Yossi Melman reported in Haaretz about an attempt to bring Harpaz back into active service in IDF intelligence a year ago. The IDF Spokesman adamantly denies this report, but intelligence sources insist that there was a plan to give Harpaz a slot as a colonel, in a technological role connected to an important information-gathering unit.

In late August, when Harpaz was named as a suspect in the Galant affair, IDF intelligence launched its own internal investigation. The Military Advocate General, however, blocked this inquiry, due to concerns that it would conflict with the police and state comptroller investigations.

On Israel TV Channel 1 news, Ayala Hasson reported this week that Harpaz and Ashkenazi were close. They had joint business interests, and Harpaz was close to Ashkenazi's wife, Ronit. The extent to which Ronit Ashkenazi might have been involved in her husband's power struggles piques curiosity, although the main question remains Gabi Ashkenazi's knowledge of the Galant document.

The police investigators believe that the chief of staff and his associates thought the document was genuine, and responded accordingly. Almost three months after the document was exposed, Ashkenazi has yet to supply a detailed explanation of how he became involved at the eye of this storm, with a forger-associate on one side and adviser-leakers on the other.

When the state comptroller's investigation opened officially on Tuesday, the IDF Spokesman issued a statement welcoming the review, and promising full cooperation, "so that any stain on the record of the IDF and its commanders is removed." The spokesman seemed a bit less engaged in early August, when Galant was besmirched.

While no evidence has surfaced indicating Barak is connected to the document, the extensive testimonies compiled by the police contain unsettling allegations about Barak's treatment of Ashkenazi, and various possible intrigues and schemes hatched in his office relating to various defense issues.

Though the State Comptroller's Office has wide-ranging authority, its inquiry will not address another, vastly more important topic. In recent years, security officials and politicians have been mired in a deep debate about strategic issues. The three officials at the top of the security pyramid, Ashkenazi, Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, have frequently allied themselves against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Barak. Calculations relating to the appointment of successors to the three will take that into account.

The army leadership showed keen interest in an article published early in the week by Brig. Gen. (res. ) Shmuel Zakai in the Israel Hayom newspaper. Zakai, who served under Ashkenazi in the Golani Brigade for several years, criticized the chief of staff directly for his behavior in the Harpaz affair, and also had stinging words for IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu. Such a public reprimand by such a senior officer against a current chief of staff is highly unusual.

The Barak-Ashkenazi war has left the security establishment in turmoil. The camps are separated by personal, not political, divides. Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, a former chief of staff, has taken a clear stance behind Ashkenazi. In contrast, Ashkenazi's immediate predecessor, Dan Halutz, sides with Barak, even though he clashed publicly with the defense minister just a year ago, when Barak denounced the IDF leadership's performance during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

What the philosopher says

Top IDF officers expressed hopes this week that Lindenstrauss would find a way to bring order to the appointment process of future chiefs of staff, and that his investigative report would serve as a launching pad for detailed legislation on the issue.

Prof. Asa Kasher, a philosopher who authored the IDF's original ethical code, a document with considerable influence among army officers, does not pull punches in his criticism of all parties involved in the Galant affair and the chief of staff appointment. His critique will be published next month in the Kivunim Hadashim journal, put out by the World Zionist Organization.

The defense minister, Kasher writes, was not obliged to follow the tradition of choosing the chief of staff's successor three months before the end of the term (in Ashkenazi's case, the decision was made six months before the end of the term ). Nonetheless, good explanations are needed as to why the appointment process started early. Kasher believes neither Barak, the government, nor the Turkel committee for senior appointments seriously addressed allegations against Galant involving actions he took related to his property at the moshav where he lives. "Appropriate handling [of the appointment process] would have included releasing a persuasive explanation about the major general's [Galant's] behavior in non-military matters, since it is likely to influence his public credibility as the next chief of staff," Kasher writes.

Kasher is also troubled by Harpaz's access to the offices of senior military officials. He has doubts about Ashkenazi's decision to keep quiet about the Harpaz document, rather than demanding clarifications from the defense minister or an independent investigator. "In view of the chances of inappropriate behavior and influence [raised by the document], the document should have been brought immediately to the person responsible for the [appointment] process ... No claim about tension between these two people can justify the fact that such a meeting and disclosure did not happen."

Comeback kids?

Officers in the IDF Southern Command held a farewell event for Yoav Galant this week, a few days after Maj. Gen. Tal Russo stepped into Galant's old shoes. Top-ranking IDF officers attended the ceremony, along with comrades of Galant's from his naval commando days in the 1970s.

Ashkenazi, who made a point of attending the event, seemed utterly isolated. Four years ago, the dynamics at play when Ashkenazi replaced the retiring Dan Halutz were the exact opposite.

One participant at the event, Brig. Gen. Imad Fares, kept a safe distance from Ashkenazi, who ousted him from the army. Moshe Tamir, the other prominent officer ousted during Ashkenazi's term, was absent; he is overseas. Fares and Tamir were ousted (Fares has contested the decision ) over "ethical" matters after filing false accident reports to hide the fact that relatives were driving IDF vehicles. Both served as officers under Galant in the Southern Command, and both had good relations with him. Since the announcement that Galant will be the next chief of staff, speculation has been rife in the army that the two men may be restored to top posts.

Tamir and Fares are both excellent commanders with a long record