Outgoing IDF Chief to Appear Today Before Panel on Galant Appointment

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is due to testify to the committee that vets senior appointments to Israel's public service; the panel is chaired by retired Supreme Court justice Yaakov Turkel. On the agenda: the process for selecting candidates to succeed Ashkenazi, which concluded last week after Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that the next chief of staff would be GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant.

Barak assumed that Turkel would quickly put a stamp of approval on his recommendation, but Turkel works according to a different schedule; the process may not be completed until after the Jewish New Year later this month.

Yesterday the three-person committee convened for a brief meeting to allow the members to get to know each other. All were present: Turkel, former justice and finance minister Moshe Nissim of Likud, and former National Religious Party MK Gila Finkelstein. Somehow, all three come from something of a religious background. In earlier committees a retired major general was invited; this time the committee will go ahead without a representative of the defense establishment.

Today Ashkenazi will be asked to give his version of the events of recent months, when Barak insisted that Israel push forward with the selection of the next chief of staff. Barak quickly interviewed five major generals in what Ashkenazi seems to believe was only a thin veil for a decision to choose Galant.

One piece of circumstantial evidence Ashkenazi could present to support this view is a tour Galant took around command centers - outside his current role. Ashkenazi's testimony may make it harder for Barak to portray the process as free of bias in Galant's favor.

Turkel is expected to hear testimony from Barak and Galant themselves, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On top of that, he is awaiting two further developments: commentary from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on a land dispute between Galant and his neighbors on Moshav Amikam, and the conclusion of the police investigation into what came to be known as the Galant document.

The police, for their part, may announce today or tomorrow that Lt. Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz's refusal to expose his partners in his alleged forging of the document leaves the police with little choice but to recommend that he be indicted on his own. The military appears apprehensive about such a scenario, claiming that it would leave many crucial questions wide open.

Last week, after police investigators declared that the document had been forged, Ashkenazi sent a letter to Weinstein, Police Commissioner David Cohen and the chief of the police's investigations and intelligence department. He asked them to take pains to determine whether the information in the document was also fabricated. The letter was also copied to Netanyahu, Barak and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.

After thanking the police for their work and clearing the General Staff and defense minister's office of suspicions of forging the document, Ashkenazi made clear that he still believed that the document reflected the trends at the top of the civilian hierarchy of the defense establishment. According to Ashkenazi, these trends indicated an intention to damage him personally, as well as Deputy Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot, and to prepare the ground for Galant's appointment as his successor.

Eizenkot is keeping silent until the police investigation concludes, but will in all likelihood refuse to serve as Galant's deputy. He may agree to become the head of Military Intelligence, a position that carried the privilege of voicing independent opinions and maintaining direct contact with the defense minister and prime minister. But such an appointment will need Galant's approval, and Galant is known to prefer his closest General Staff associate for the job, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan.

Ashkenazi's relationship with Barak is still tense. About a week ago, Barak refused to authorize a request by President Shimon Peres to invite Ashkenazi for a meeting. In an interview earlier this month, Peres heaped praise on Ashkenazi, calling for the cooling-off period to be shortened between a senior general's departure from the army and entry into politics.

Peres was virtually rehashing his comments from 20 years ago, when Barak was deputy chief of staff and trying to get the Shamir government to promote him to the top job. Peres, then leader of the Labor Party, said in 1990 that he saw Barak as one of his likeliest heirs in the party (the other being Amos Oz. )

Ashkenazi didn't doubt the credibility of Harpaz when the latter delivered him the Galant document in April; among other reasons, because Harpaz proved his worth to him as early as February. In that month, Barak's chief of staff Yoni Koren released a terse statement against Ashkenazi's close ally, IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu. Harpaz had warned Ashkenazi of a similar development as early as January. Harpaz didn't reveal his sources then, but the vindication of his prediction made Ashkenazi's associates believe that Harpaz had access to anonymous sources very close to Barak.

Harpaz was booted out of Military Intelligence, without his pension rights, during the tenure of Moshe Ya'alon as chief of staff. He appealed against the financial damages he suffered, and Brig.Gen. (res. ) Avner Barazni - then soldiers' complaints commissioner - was appointed arbitrator.

All this took place before Ashkenazi was appointed chief of staff. Barazni ruled that Harpaz should be reinstated, for a symbolic period of time, and that the years since his sending off on unpaid leave should be taken into account and his pension rights restored. After completing his tenure as complaints commissioner, Barazni, a Shaul Mofaz ally, was elected to Kadima's Knesset slate. In these same elections, Harpaz helped the Mofaz camp against Tzipi Livni. Barazni died in December 2009.