The Israeli Military’s Subversion of the Government

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IDF officers. 'Politicians are responsible but the military gets the blame and the axe,' they say. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

Yet another twist is unfolding in the so-called Harpaz affair, four years after the first round in the war between former Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Lt. Col. Boaz Harpaz, assisted by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office, continues to mock Israel’s political world.

First Harpaz gave a self-serving version of events, then he took the blame. Then he went back to exculpating himself and blaming Ashkenazi. More recently, he accused Barak, leaving the country chasing a whirlwind.

The reputation of the police's investigative prowess has been badly damaged in the affair, with all the transparent strategies and shallow questioning. A thousand skilled spokesmen headed by an eloquent police commissioner won’t be able to restore the police’s image, as evident in questions by a chief superintendent who treats a serious affair such as improper ties among officers, politicians and journalists like another highway robbery.

In any case, it’s a short path to a country in which law enforcement becomes selective and arbitrary. A leak by one public official will be considered breach of trust, while the improper passing on of information by an official more favored by the authorities, or by the authorities themselves, will be dismissed as trivial.

The whole Harpaz investigation, which is recycling ad nauseam the previous investigation conducted in August 2010, is based on recordings made in Ashkenazi’s office. To disqualify these recordings as being made without the knowledge or consent of people taking part in the discussions, at least one side must have been aware of the recordings. In an orderly system, the legal admissibility of such recordings should be established in advance, not after the fact. But the system has been destabilized and there is no one to put it back on track.

Weinstein is acting feebly in the area that is supposed to justify the attorney general’s dual roles as the guardian of constitutional and administrative propriety and the head of the prosecutorial apparatus. It’s superficial to attribute the machinations in the Harpaz affair to the quirks of individuals.

The affair comes down to who runs the defense establishment. Barak had a clear answer: “Me and Bibi,” in that order — referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his desire to rebuke the chief staff and the heads of Military Intelligence, the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad for their opposition to his subterfuge in preparations for a strike against Iran without government approval, Barak said he and Netanyahu stood above everyone. He conveniently forgot the entire government’s collective responsibility.

In the disputes over the defense budget, top generals are harshly critical of the politicians supervising them, accusing them of seriously hampering the Israel Defense Forces’ preparedness for war, claiming that this will entail hundreds more casualties. “The IDF doesn’t choose its missions,” these officers say as a pretext to keep using the IDF as an occupation army.

When convenient, they choose preparations for war and the need for training as a way to attack the government and punish it for budget cuts. They hint at future committees of enquiry that will look into failures, saying the “politicians are responsible but the military gets the blame and the axe.”

The defense budget is formed in a crooked procedure. It starts out as the sum of all approved operations, but when reductions are imposed it’s the defense establishment, not the government, that decides what’s cut. The men in uniform don’t silently salute the politicians. They believe that they, like their predecessors, including former chiefs of staff Barak and Ashkenazi, have a duty to issue warnings.

This may seem like the fulfilment of a duty, but with only a small effort the treasury and the military advocate general can infer that the Harpaz affair is actually a case of breach of trust. The military’s criticism of the government is harsh. Why has the knight of justice and champion of law, Military Advocate General Danny Efroni, been struck silent in the face of the IDF’s dangerous subversion of the government?

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