Small Fish, Big Worries

The Harpaz affair is one more episode in a bleak series of cases, in which the defense establishment's top brass believed and was misled by people from within its own ranks.

It was Brig. Gen. Haim Afargan of the Israel Police who heard Boaz Harpaz admit that he forged a document supposedly outlining the plan by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to market the candidacy of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as IDF chief of staff. Harpaz, a businessman and lieutenant colonel in the reserves, later claimed that he'd confessed under questioning by Afargan, head of the Serious and International Crimes Unit, to doing something he had not done. Harpaz said that during his interrogation he was shown evidence allegedly collected from his computers, but claimed it was false and had been planted by hackers with intelligence experience who even managed to fool the police. In light of the situation, Harpaz said he had preferred to admit to a marginal transgression, even though he denied having actually committed it, in the hope of getting off lightly in a trial or plea bargain.

The investigation of Harpaz was conducted in August 2010 in the offices of the international crimes unit, in Lod, under the supervision of Afargan, as well as of police investigations and intelligence division head Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich. Despite tight time constraints imposed by Barak - who wanted to renew the then-stalled process for Galant's appointment as quickly as possible - the smallest details were thoroughly examined in the investigation, which was completed within about two weeks. For example, when a suspect or witness talked about a meeting at a cafe, an investigator was sent there to check whether one of the participants in the conversation had used a credit card.

Barak and Ashkenazi - Defense Ministry - March 2012
Defense Ministry

When investigators heard for the first time that Harpaz had apparently given the document in question to Col. Erez Weiner, an aide to then-Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, there was no suspicion yet that Harpaz had actually created the document. Harpaz was questioned on the assumption that he was the second link in the chain: the person who had received the document from a mysterious source. Since Harpaz was about to travel abroad at that point, Segalovich met him at Ben-Gurion International Airport, took his testimony and let him take off. Only afterward did investigators conclude that Harpaz was not the "exporter" but rather the "manufacturer."

To ensure that the investigators would not be biased in any way and would consider other possibilities, the chief of police at the time, Commissioner David Cohen, appointed his deputy, Maj. Gen. Ilan Franco, as a participant-observer in the investigation, there to propose alternative explanations. Franco had no criticism of the proceedings. The State Prosecutor's Office adopted the team's conclusion that Harpaz had acted alone. As did State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who conducted his own investigation on the assumption that Harpaz, even if he had yet to be indicted, had forged the document.

The comptroller was amazed to see the ease with which a person like Harpaz could vault over the highest security hurdles in such a way that he could take in Ashkenazi. What appalled the comptroller was the failing in the system that allows a person who formerly belonged to a sort of mysterious order of initiates and had been ejected from it under problematic circumstances, to make his way back in, becoming a purveyor of information and puller of strings.

The Harpaz affair is just one recent new episode in a long and bleak series of events. He was preceded by Yisrael Bar, an Israel Defense Forces lieutenant colonel who was a senior employee of the Ministry of Defense and was found to have been a spy for the USSR; by Rami Dotan, a brigadier general, who received bribes and stole from the air force, and was defended by his commanders; and by Yehuda Gil, a much-lauded case officer in the Mossad who handled a spy who didn't exist. In all these cases, the defense establishment's top brass believed and were misled by these people.

Now, one need not conclude that the top echelon of that establishment colluded in a crime, but if time after time it is revealed to be a bastion of gullible people, this creates an opening for malevolent penetration by outsiders for purposes of espionage, fraud or corruption.

Summaries of chapters in the comptroller's draft report about people investigated in the Harpaz affair have been sent to them, but the report's final summation has not been submitted or released. Perhaps it will offer some answers to some of the larger questions raised by the affair. What disturbs the comptroller with respect to a lower-ranking officer like Harpaz has to be considerably more disturbing when it concerns more senior officers. Why complain about those who were "fed" by Harpaz and ignored his previous entanglements, if problematic information about the behavior of people like Yitzhak Mordechai, Moshe Katsav and Ehud Olmert did not prevent them from becoming, respectively, defense minister, president and prime minister?

An iron fist

The Israeli public has been done a favor, and this is also the opinion of the comptroller, who lauds the coming-to-light of the "Harpaz document," a development that exposed a long-simmering problem. He thinks Harpaz "transformed" the gossip he passed on verbally (which was remarkably confirmed ) into documentation, as if what is seen carries more weight than what is heard. Without a document there would have been no investigation. However, the main problem here arises from the situation itself, not from the paper that purported to describe it. For Harpaz to be convicted of forgery "in aggravated circumstances," it is necessary to explain what those circumstances were and what the "thing" is that Harpaz wanted to obtain. At the State Prosecutor's Office, they believed Harpaz wanted to help Ashkenazi attain a fifth year as chief of staff, and to thwart Galant's appointment as his successor.

The comptroller's investigation ruled out the fifth-year idea, and did not find that Ashkenazi's opposition to having Galant be his second-in-command (in 2009, when Galant was appointed deputy chief of staff ), and to his promotion to chief of staff, had been translated into any actions on the ground. For his part, Harpaz could also argue that Barak's efforts to push Ashkenazi - who was appointed by the government of Ehud Olmert, at the recommendation of Defense Minster Amir Peretz - to resign before the end of his term were improper, and thus it was permissible to try to stop them.

There is a bitter and worsening quarrel here between two people. Not "defense minister" versus "chief of staff," but rather Ehud Barak versus Gabi Ashkenazi. And this is part of a broader war that Barak is waging against the rest of the world (with the exception of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ). In recent years, for example, Barak has taken to crude bullying, reflected in public statements dripping with verbal violence against Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. He has always been impatient when dealing with others, but ever since his return to politics five years ago, he has been best known for using the iron fist, without any kid gloves.

The story of Barak and Ashkenazi, which Harpaz did not make happen but in which he became embroiled, is distinguished by the sheer volume of loathing broadcast by the defense minister's bureau, which became further amplified the more the public seemed to side with the former chief of staff.

Earlier this week, following the rather ridiculous dedication of Ashkenazi Street in Or Yehuda and the publication of public opinion polls that gave the former army chief a nice boost, Barak's bureau totally lost its balance, attacking the IDF's legal system - for the punishment it meted out to Brig. Gen. Moshe (Chico ) Tamir in 2009. (Tamir had allowed his teenage son to drive a military ATV off-road, and when it collided with a civilian car, neglected to accurately report the incident, for which he was effectively dismissed from the army )

In essence, Barak questioned the integrity of the military-justice system, from former Military Advocate General Avichai Mandelblit, to the military court that convicted Tamir, and the appeals court that choose not to overturn the verdict.

Last summer Barak pressed Mandelblit to resign and maneuvered Chief of Staff Gantz into skipping over the candidate to replace Mandelblit who was favored by Ashkenazi and Mandelblit: Deputy Military Advocate General Col. Sharon Afek. Instead Gantz appointed retired Deputy Military Advocate General Danny Efroni.

Efroni has meanwhile given the state comptroller free, blanket access to tens of thousands of recordings of telephone conversations - in contrast to Mandelblit who insisted, on grounds of maintaining the privacy of the individual, on limiting the comptroller's access to such data. The recordings archive does not identify the details of the participants in the conversations or the topics of discussion, but soldiers who served as secretaries at the General Staff were hired by the comptroller to identify the voices.

The recording of telephone conversations preceded Ashkenazi's appointment as chief of staff: The system that carries out the tapings was set up in the new General Staff and Defense Ministry building that was inaugurated in 2005. The first to benefit from it was former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who among other things recorded an angry conversation with Ashkenazi, then a major general in the reserves.

There is at present a mystery surrounding some regrettable malfunctions of the documentation system on the other side of the corridor - in Barak's bureau. A retired senior officer claimed this week that one of the minister's secretaries admitted she had been ordered to destroy a document that contained a promise that had been made to him. One of the chief investigators at the police has said that the stories about the destroyed document and about computer hard disks that were destroyed by mistake necessitate a criminal investigation.

Behind the dozens of photos on the walls of the bureaus of both the defense minister and chief of staff of people who preceded them in those positions , are concealed hundreds of stories of infighting. Those positions, at the head of organizations that wield force, are usually only reached by people who have no qualms about using the same, even against colleagues.

If Haim Afargan, who is mentioned in the Shamgar committee's report on the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin (at that time he was in the Yarkon Police District ), took the trouble to read every last line of that report, he will know that it includes a line that is also relevant to the comptroller's report on Barak, Harpaz, Ashkenazi and all the rest: "An evil growth within a person's own home is worse than a war of Gog and Magog."