Micha and His Fawning Friend

Barak so underrates Lindenstrauss that he thinks the comptroller will be tempted to believe the praise he heaps on him.

The mysterious person has been identified who is responsible for the tense relations between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. It's David Ben-Gurion, whose spirit hovers over everyone, including the two people mentioned above. The archive at Sde Boker contains correspondence from September 1964 between Ben-Gurion and a young Micha Lindenstrauss, then secretary of the Jerusalem Workers Council. It's the same Lindenstrauss who's now investigating the Harpaz affair as state comptroller.

According to a draft report by Lindenstrauss three months ago, Col. Erez Weiner, an Ashkenazi aide, coordinated contacts with Harpaz, who is suspected of forging a document meant to keep Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant from being appointed chief of staff.

Udi Ben-Eliezer, one of Weiner's lawyers, is Ben-Gurion's great-grandson. He asked Lindenstrauss who gave the order to write the Harpaz document. This is an echo of the question asked about the 1954 Lavon affair, Ben-Gurion's cause celebre, when an Israeli spy operation failed under Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon's watch. Lavon was forced to resign.

Barak is an avowed admirer of Ben-Gurion. The Old Man's efforts to impose his authority are central to his biography as recorded by Shabtai Teveth. Barak is trying to imitate Ben-Gurion, although not very successfully.

Ben-Gurion, who succeeded Lavon as defense minister, wanted the truth exposed, painful as it might be. Barak and Lindenstrauss are comfortable for the truth to wait. Last week High Court justices Edna Arbel, Elyakim Rubinstein and Noam Sohlberg agreed to impose a gag order, albeit temporary and late, on testimony to the state comptroller and his colleagues during the Harpaz affair.

The order will remain in force until the comptroller's report comes out. The testimony will then be released, providing it does not compromise state security (as if the behavior of those involved in the affair didn't already compromise state security ). The sanctity of privacy will not be violated (whose privacy? Everyone's? Including Harpaz's? ), and the secrecy that the state comptroller has promised certain witnesses will not be broken.

The High Court ruling was explained by a democratic society's need to balance "the importance of a free, investigative press that presents to the people details about their elected officials' conduct," and making sure the "institution of the state comptroller" is protected, along with the efficacy of its investigations in the future.

Theoretically, it's not terrible for the people to wait a while. But the gag order could mean that key details are being hidden, knowledge of which before the report's publication could influence our faith in one version of events over another. Concealing such details, temporarily or permanently, is meant to protect the people under investigation.

But concerns are growing that the comptroller wants to protect himself. Some testimony under the gag order shows that the investigation has suffered from superficiality and arbitrariness. The watchdog's questions reveal worrisome gaps in familiarity with the Israel Defense Forces' history; there have also been misleading responses, accidentally or on purpose, that were neither noted nor corrected.

The people under investigation were also supposed to testify separately. If we hadn't had access to their testimony, we wouldn't have found out that Barak's chief of staff Yoni Koren often accompanied Barak. And the comptroller didn't bother to prevent people from coordinating their versions of events, which is clear from the use of similar and even identical terms in the testimony.

From the transcriptions of taped conversations between Weiner and Harpaz, another fact emerges that is convenient for the comptroller to play down: Harpaz boasted of his ties with Lindenstrauss and gossiped about the head of the security department in the State Comptroller's Office, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yaakov Orr. Both men are more believable than Harpaz - and who more than they knows that his statements are baseless? But if they think he's a liar, it's incomprehensible how new claims by Weiner about Ashkenazi, after the comptroller's draft report was issued, have suddenly justified the comptroller's changing his mind about the need for a criminal investigation.

And which of the other people being investigated, or of the people who trust in the fairness of the investigation, would have believed that a single person being investigated permits himself special relations with the comptroller? That person is Barak, who calls Lindenstrauss "Micha" and who tells him "my wife Nili found by chance certain documents in a drawer" (whose content is not permitted for publication at this time ) and who ends with fawning remarks about Micha and his office.

Barak so underrates Lindenstrauss that he thinks the comptroller will be tempted to believe the praise Barak heaps on him. And maybe Barak complacently assumes that his remarks will never be published and the question will never arise as to who the comptroller was protecting - Barak or himself.