The Officer and the Spin Doctors

Regardless of what is discovered about the veracity of the so-called Galant document, the affair surrounding it is sullying the race for chief of staff

On August 4, GOC Central Command Avi Mizrahi learned that Defense Minister Ehud Barak was launching the official interview process for the next chief of staff. Mizrahi had been preparing his own campaign for the post for several months. True, the media had written him off as unrealistic, but Barak's aides told him he would get the minister's full consideration in any case.

Barak and Mizrahi met the next day. But the following evening, Mizrahi learned from Channel 2 news that the so-called "Galant document" - detailing a purported PR campaign to boost the chances of GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant of being appointed to the army's top spot - stated that he, Mizrahi, had merely been a bit player in the script. The document, after all, recommended interviewing additional candidates "beyond the three" (Maj. Gens. Galant, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot ) before appointing Galant. Was Mizrahi just a pawn in the spin doctors' game?

Many others probably had the same feeling this week, in the light of the plethora of reports. The Galant document, whether authentic or not (in any case, it has apparently no proven connection to the man himself), is smelling up the public arena. The fact that this sort of thing goes on in politics - and elsewhere - in the country comes as no surprise to anyone who recalls, for instance, the heyday of the Likud Party Central Committee. Similarly, lobbyists and PR people have been involved in the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff selection process for a few decades. But Ariel Sharon's "ranch forum" at least showed some sophistication. Sharon's detractors told stories about dark deals being struck around the appointment of police commissioners and army heads, but no one ever proved anything and no one was so sloppy as to leave behind an embarrassing and unnecessary piece of evidence.

As the police investigation begins, the media have nothing substantial to report on. This is not an investigation that took place secretly for some weeks or that follows an earlier inquest by another body, media outlet or the state comptroller. The police were not brought into the picture until Sunday, after media and PR adviser Eyal Arad filed a complaint and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ordered that the investigation be given priority. A careful newspaper reader should, with experience from past corruption scandals, be suspicious of reports about new documents, breakthroughs or key witnesses.

Should the document turn out to be real, a serious and essential question will have to be answered: Were Galant or Barak's bureau involved in drafting it? Both have issued vehement denials. However, even though this development is extremely relevant to the race for chief of staff, it is apparently not of a criminal nature.

The police are not trying to find out who leaked the document, of course, even though this aspect of the story also has interesting public implications at a time when a chief of staff made officers undergo polygraph tests over every scrap of information, and sometimes received his daily media summary with upsetting items highlighted, alongside notes naming the people who may have leaked them.

Galant is hyperactively pursuing his goal of becoming chief of staff, a goal he set himself a decade ago. Rumors of the involvement of lobbyists, advisers and businessmen have been circulating for several months, but there is a huge disparity between rumors and solid evidence. Sources in the General Staff have known that such a document existed for about two months. A copy of the document, which was disclosed August 6, may have made the rounds in a few senior bureaus.

The source seems to have had the document for some time, but did not make it available to Channel 2 until shortly before the station publicized it. There is no doubt that the aim was to block Galant's appointment, which many top officials in the defense and political establishments had considered almost a foregone conclusion. The trigger was Barak's announcement two days earlier that he was launching the interview process.

The next day, Haaretz published a leaked document from a meeting between the Eiland Committee, which investigated the Gaza flotilla operation, and the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in which the political echelon was supposedly exonerated completely. A day later came the "reprisal operation": The Galant document was revealed.

In the light of the sweeping denial by Eyal Arad, whose firm allegedly drew up the document, there would appear to be two main lines of investigation: either it was written by someone in his employ (perhaps - and this is more serious - in coordination with one or more people from Barak's bureau ), or it was faked by enemies of both Galant and Barak. According to the latter scenario, Galant may originally have been only a secondary target, even if he is the principal victim.

Barak and the outgoing chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, have been bickering over the date for appointing Ashkenazi's successor for months. Barak was hoping for this month, but Ashkenazi's supporters went all the way to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to have the announcement postponed until November - three months before Ashkenazi retires. Now the attorney general has ordered the appointment be postponed until the investigation into the Galant document is completed.

Barak, who says the document is a forgery (and that it was written in the past few weeks ), believes the police will substantiate this within a week or two, at which point he will resume the interview process even more intensively. If no connection to Galant is proved - and certainly if the document turns out to be fake - Barak's motivation to appoint a chief of staff, probably Galant, as quickly as possible will only increase.

Ashkenazi's supporters loathe Barak and his bureau chief, Yoni Koren, so much that they believe the document may actually reflect a real plan of action. Delaying the decision about the appointment will not be enough: The chief of staff's camp also hopes Galant will be removed from the race and even that Koren will be banished. The more daring among them are also quietly dreaming about a shake-up in the coalition and a new defense minister being appointed.

If Galant is no longer a candidate, who will be the next chief of staff? Probably Benny Gantz. Napoleon demanded that his generals have luck. The deputy chief of staff is one of those people who can win the lottery even when they forget to buy a ticket.

A rival emerges

A blue curtain, two flags, a large sign in Hebrew and correct English, simultaneous translation, a spokesman in a suit and tie (in the middle of August! ), an air-conditioned media tent with wireless Internet, numerous security guards: At first glance, the Turkel Committee investigating the operation to intercept the Gaza flotilla makes Israel look like a serious country. Until you listen to the testimonies of the senior officials, of course.

It then emerges that Benjamin Netanyahu simply doesn't remember what went on in the discussions about ways to stop the flotilla; that he went off to the United States, left the defense minister in charge of the operation and pretty much forgot about the whole thing; that Ehud Barak thinks (in total contradiction to Yitzhak Rabin, for example ) that the "how" of a military operation is a petty matter that should be left to the boys in uniform; and that the two honorable observers from abroad have not yet been able to read the Eiland report because the budget for translating it into English hasn't yet been approved.

Netanyahu was sweating this week not only because the weakness of his government was exposed for all to see, or because the final pin was stuck into the sanctified balloon of the ministerial forum of seven. What really worried him was the emergence of a rival in the political arena. Ashkenazi prepared well for his testimony, took responsibility for failures (more assertively than both Netanyahu and Barak, who testified before him ) and displayed the requisite combination of purposefulness and humility in his appearance before the committee.

Once more it is apparent, despite his self-imposed ban on interviews since becoming chief of staff, that he has no problem answering difficult questions when necessary. It's no wonder that the newspapers praised his testimony as though he were a future prime minister.

The Turkel panel also gained some public credit for its willingness to ignore the narrow mandate it received and to delve into all the disturbing issues. The committee is now looking for a military adviser. In the meantime, the names of three senior officers have come up and been ruled out: Brig. Gen. (res. ) Shmuel Zakai (who disqualified himself because he already has expressed himself in the media on the subject ) and two former commanders of the navy's Shayetet 13 commando unit: Brig. Gen. (res. ) Erez Zuckerman and Brig. Gen. Ram Rothberg. Rothberg was ruled out because he is currently on loan to the National Security Council, which took part in planning the flotilla operation.

An interesting point arises in this connection: Why did the IDF forgo three of the four last commanders of Shayetet 13, which is one of the IDF's true elite units? Zuckerman left over the Second Lebanon War, in which he served as a division commander (his anger at the "establishment" is now preventing him from getting the post ). Rothberg and Col. N., who is on loan to a different state body, were forced out of the navy by its present commander, Adm. Eliezer Marom.

A matter of trust

Between Turkel and Galant, it was a bad week for Barak and a good one for Ashkenazi. And also a dismal week for the IDF. In an official communique released to coincide with the start of the investigation into the leaked document, the chief of staff expressed concern that the affair would adversely affect the public's trust in the IDF. Ashkenazi knows whereof he speaks. After all, the principal message of his term has been restoring trust, following the failure of his predecessor, Dan Halutz, in the Second Lebanon War. Still, it appears that even under Ashkenazi, the IDF has become entangled in affairs involving lies, credibility and ethics. Just a few months ago, the chief of staff booted two talented brigadier generals - Chico Tamir and Imad Fares - in the wake of far smaller scandals.

The Galant affair (and the fact that his name has been tied to it, is already causing him irreversible damage ) reveals something about the depth of the politicization of the IDF. Something has gone awry when PR people stick their noses into the top ranks of the defense establishment, or when a logical explanation discounting a theory about a connection between a chief of staff candidate and an adviser involves the fact that the prime minister's wife can't stand the adviser.

We apparently weren't told the truth, a senior officer in the reserves said regarding the week's developments.

"It turns out that for some time we have been living in a country in which the prime minister is Sara Netanyahu, the defense minister is Yoni Koren and the chief of staff is [IDF Spokesman] Avi Benayahu," he said.