Israel's Defense Leadership Is Rotten to the Core

The state comptroller's report into the Harpaz affair reveals that Israel's security has been entrusted to a gang of amateurish intriguers.

The state comptroller's report on the Harpaz affair, parts of which were published on Monday after a draft had been delivered to those it criticizes, presents a chilling and disturbing picture of the conduct of the leaders of Israel's defense establishment.

The report paints former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi as a subverter, who worked to torpedo Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's appointment as his successor with the help of a dubious agent, reserve officer Boaz Harpaz. And it paints Defense Minister Ehud Barak as having failed to supervise the army, while allowing himself to be dragged into a fight between his bureau and associates and those of Ashkenazi.

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The Basic Law on the Army divides responsibility for the military between two officials: the chief of staff, who is subordinate to the defense minister, and the defense minister, who is in charge of the army on the government's behalf. According to the comptroller, neither Ashkenazi nor Barak fulfilled his legal responsibilities.

Ashkenazi didn't accept his subordination to Barak; instead, he viewed himself as the equal of the minister in charge of him. When Ashkenazi disapproved of the minister's conduct, he waged a systematic campaign against Barak via his associates. The comptroller rejected Ashkenazi's claim that his disagreement with Barak stemmed from their differences of opinion over whether to attack Iran's nuclear facilities; instead, he views Ashkenazi's conduct as motivated by personal considerations and power struggles.

The comptroller found no evidence of similar intrigues toward Ashkenazi on Barak's part, in contrast to the claims made by the former chief of staff's associates. But Barak's rejoicing over the report is overblown. When the organization he oversees is rotten, the minister is supposed to know how to fix it: He can't just act like a commentator or an observer. If the minister has no clue what is going on in the General Staff, how is he supposed to do his job of supervising the army?

The comptroller's findings recall the 1954 Lavon Affair. That, too, involved intrigues by the army against a minister, Pinhas Lavon, who had trouble controlling his subordinates, manipulative use of the media, and lies and attempts to mislead investigators. More than 50 years have passed, and Israel's defense establishment still suffers from the same ills.

And here we come to the most worrying conclusion of all: Even after the rot was exposed, the establishment hasn't learned a thing. The comptroller's report, combined with the testimony of ousted National Security Advisor Uzi Arad regarding the goings-on in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau, reveals that Israel's security has been entrusted to a gang of amateurish intriguers.