Where's the Gallantry?

It shouldn't be too hard for investigators to unravel the scandal linked to Yoav Galant's candidacy for chief of staff. What they find could spell an end not only to his career, but also to Ehud Barak's as defense minister

It was his first day on the job as Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, in April 1991, but Ehud Barak was unhappy. As was customary, a glossy color photograph of Barak was distributed with the morning papers, suitable for hanging in army offices or private homes. "Have you seen the photo?" an enraged Barak asked then-IDF spokesman Nachman Shai. At the time, Barak was planning on cutting Shai loose and replacing him with Likud activist Dan Naveh - even though Barak himself, as deputy chief of staff, three years earlier, had proposed to his superior, chief of staff Dan Shomron, that Shai be brought from Army Radio and appointed spokesman. But the first Gulf War had meanwhile turned Shai into a celebrity, and Barak wanted a spokesman who would not compete with him.

Shai had not seen the photo. He quickly grabbed a copy of one of the newspapers and glanced at it.

"What's the problem?" he asked.

"The stubble," said Barak. "How could they have allowed such a picture to be distributed? Who's in charge of the IDF Spokesman's photo laboratory?"

"A veteran first sergeant," Shai replied. "Why?"

"Dump him," the chief of staff ordered.

"Are you kidding?" Shai exclaimed. "For a little stubble? Who didn't turn up clean-shaven for the photo session? The first sergeant?"

In the modern Hebrew lexicon, "taking responsibility" refers to how a politician shifts responsibility around as he moves from one post to another. Today, however, it appears that Barak's claim of taking responsibility, as opposed to being accountable, won't save him.

As far as is known, police investigators have not found a connection between Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant and the ugly maneuver apparently intended both to fan the flames of simmering conflict between Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and to harm the chances of Galant's competitors for the IDF's top spot: Maj. Gens. Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot.

It is possible that investigators will find a thread linking employees in Eyal Arad's public relations consultancy to friends in Barak's office, who operated without the designated beneficiary, Galant, being aware of what was happening. If that is the case, through no fault of his own, it would likely be a sad end to the unique career pursued by Galant - the first navy veteran to have reached the rank of general outside of the navy, before becoming a candidate for chief of staff.

In the 1970s, when Galant enlisted in the naval commando unit, veterans of the elite Shayetet 13 squad were not considered suitable candidates for command positions in the navy, nor were naval officers thought of as viable candidates for IDF positions outside the navy. Time passed before Shayetet 13 produced officers who competed for the top command post in the navy. Among those who reached the commander's position were Zeev Almog, Ami Ayalon and Yedidya Ya'ari, but they left the IDF after serving in that post.

In order to advance in the navy, Shayetet officers, including Galant, had to pass the naval officers' course and serve on a missile boat. In the early 1990s, Galant went on to complete an army brigade commanders' course. A comrade from that course, Col. (res. ) Shaul Arieli, recently recalled that Galant was deemed its most outstanding participant. Subsequently, like his rivals Gantz and Eizenkot, Galant was appointed commander of a land forces brigade deployed in the territories, the Menashe Brigade (based in Jenin ).

Galant's name first became known to the public after the February 1994 massacre of Palestinian worshipers in Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs. Chief of staff Barak appointed him to head the investigation of the event, even before the government of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin decided to form a national commission of inquiry headed by then-Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar. That same year, Galant returned to the navy, where he served as commander of Shayetet 13 until 1997.

In December 1996, two frogmen under his command in the Shayetet, Yair Engel and Matan Polibuda, died in a training accident. Appearing at a press conference convened by the IDF Spokesman, Galant spoke about the tragedy, its investigation and efforts to prevent its recurrence with an admirable mix of professional directness and candid sensitivity. He left the navy after advancing to the rank of brigadier general and being appointed commander of the Gaza Division. For 13 years he has pinned on his green army uniform the bat-wing symbol of the elite Shayetet commando unit, along with paratrooper wings and a Tank Corps symbol of distinction. He is a major general, not an admiral.

In his eight years in that rank, Galant has served in just two posts - as Ariel Sharon's military secretary and as head of the Southern Command, which he holds today. Owing to his close relations with Sharon, Galant became one of the best-connected figures in the security establishment. Locked in his brain, and perhaps also his diary, are not only state secrets but also information about interpersonal relationships in the country's security elite.

When he finishes his tour of duty in the IDF, he could choose to write an intriguing memoir about his years of association with Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak, Moshe Ya'alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and various heads of the Shin Bet and the Mossad. Ahead of the IDF Cast Lead operation, and in the course of the action, Galant belonged to the militant wing of the leadership, which included Olmert, and then foreign minister Tzipi Livni. At the time Barak and Ashkenazi, the most moderate player in the drama, were ideological allies, as they perhaps remain with regard to various issues, including the idea of the transfer of the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace.

Changes of name

In the early 1970s, there was much buzz in the IDF about four very visible lieutenant colonels, all former heads of commando units, all of whom seemed certain to become major generals, if not more: Ehud Brog, Matan Vilnai, Uri Eisenberg and Amnon Lipkin. Brog changed his name to Barak, Eisenberg to Saguy, and Lipkin became Lipkin-Shahak. In the mid-1980s, when Barak looked up, he saw Shomron, and when he looked down he saw Lipkin-Shahak, and then a little below him, Vilnai and Saguy.

Lipkin-Shahak replaced Barak three consecutive times. First as head of Military Intelligence, then as deputy chief of staff, and finally in the top position. Yitzhak Rabin, both as defense minister and then prime minister, respected both men. Lipkin-Shahak had allies close to Rabin: Shimon Sheves, Haim Ramon, Aryeh Deri, Moshe Shahal, Jacob Perry from the Shin Bet, and Rafi Peled from the police. Barak's support group featured mainly Barak.

The hostility that currently plagues the chief of staff and his boss the defense minister is mainly personal. Almost 20 years after the fact, the argument in the army's top echelon and the Defense Ministry remains unresolved: Who "saved" Gabi? The question refers to the rescue of Ashkenazi - then a brigadier general, who commanded the Lebanon liaison unit - from the claws of his nemesis and superior at Northern Command, GOC Yitzhak Mordechai, and his appointment as head of the IDF's operations brigade. That appointment required the patronage of either Barak or Lipkin-Shahak, along with lobbying among major generals.

Ashkenazi showed gratitude toward Lipkin-Shahak, who two years later appointed him major general. The man who headed chief of staff Barak's office, Yoni Koren, saw this as a lack of gratitude: He thought that thanks were owed to Barak.

Barak wants a new chief of staff who will be beholden to him, not to Lipkin-Shahak or Ashkenazi. And Galant is thought of as being in the defense minister's camp. Therefore, the shock and silence initially displayed by Barak and his associates after the revelation of the Galant document indicated that a big plan had perhaps gone off the rails.

Barak, who was not necessarily privy to the whole plan, has been feeling the heat over the past 10 days; he has been preoccupied with problems both personal and professional. While testifying before the Turkel Committee investigating the Gaza flotilla affair, officials in the State Comptroller's Office were waiting for him and Netanyahu, in order to get information for its own probe into the affair.

Meanwhile, all materials relevant to the Galant document affair must be submitted to the State Comptroller's Office by August 25. Should it turn out that there was an illicit connection between Barak's office and Arad and Lior Horev's public relations firm, Barak will in all likelihood have to relinquish the defense minister portfolio.

The police's investigation need not be extremely complicated: There are records of discussions between various figures (which apparently were held during the second half of May, before the flotilla incident ), several copies of the incriminating document and a circle of major generals, assistants and other persons who heard rumors of the document's existence. The investigators hope that they will find a witness whose testimony will help to wrap up the police inquiry, for the benefit of the IDF and the public.

However the affair ends up, Police Commissioner David Cohen has already notched up a gain: After what Barak is going through now, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch is not likely to have the stomach to hastily announce his own favored candidate for the appointment as the next police chief.