Selection of New Army Chief Halted Until After Galant Probe

Decision seen as victory for outgoing IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi, who sought to delay defense minister's decision on who would replace him.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein yesterday ordered the appointment of the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff to be deferred until the investigation into the so-called Galant document is completed.

The document, revealed by Channel 2 news last week, reportedly includes details of a public relations campaign intended to sow division between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and current army chief Gabi Ashkenazi by supporting the appointment of GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant to succeed the latter.

Eyal Arad

Weinstein's announcement followed a request from Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to investigate the affair.

Eyal Arad, the image consultant whose firm's seal appeared on the document in question, filed a complaint yesterday over what he described as forgery.

Yesterday Weinstein said he had told Barak that, under the circumstances created by the pending investigation, there are no legal obstacles to holding interviews and consultations related to the selection of a new chief of staff.

But Weinstein added that the selection itself could not be conducted until a decision is made over Arad's complaint.

The investigation into the document's drafting and release is expected to take approximately two months. Barak said yesterday that the investigation "must be carried out quickly."

Intense feuding between Bark and Ashkenazi has been seen in recent months over who would take the latter's place when his term ends in February. Ashkenazi expressed support for the probe yesterday, adding that the IDF would offer its full cooperation to help the truth come to light.

The Galant document appears to offer a strategic program for creating a rift between Barak and Ashkenazi, by calling the reputations of candidates other than Galant into question to remove any competition.

Like Arad, Galant has also denied any link to the document, dismissing it as a forgery aimed at preventing, or at least delaying, his appointment as chief of staff. Yesterday Galant sent a short personal memorandum to Ashkenazi, stating he had been "stunned" by the document and had played no part at all in its release.

Three possible directions

The investigation could lead police in any of three general directions. The document could turn out to be authentic, drafted by Arad or someone else at his firm. Arad told Army Radio yesterday that he knows that filing a false complaint is a criminal offense, and would therefore not risk incurring criminal charges unless he was certain an injustice was being committed against him.

Another possibility is that the entire document is a forgery intended to discredit Galant.

A third option is that the document is the work of Galant supporters - possibly even Barak associates - who for reasons still unclear released it bearing the seal of Arad's PR firm.

Should the document be found to be a forgery, investigators will have to determine both who drafted it and who leaked it to Channel 2.

Until now, the channel's news staff has refused to hand the document over to police arguing it was protecting the immunity of its source. "Every word in the document can be revealed and submitted," a member of the news staff said yesterday. "The document itself cannot."

Without the original, police will likely find it difficult to conduct their examination with only copies of the document presented on the news program and its website. Police are legally permitted, however, to seize computers and other evidence and to subject suspects to polygraph tests.

In any case, over the course of their investigation National Fraud Unit officers will have to question staff, consultants and possibly even high-level figures in the Defense Ministry and IDF, as well as the leading candidates for the chief of staff post.

'They can spare us their speeches'

Yesterday an officer course got underway for brigade commanders in the reserves. The officers, all of them serving voluntarily, expressed disgust over the conduct of the military leadership under which they serve in demanding, often life-threatening situations.

"The generals can spare us their speeches about values," said one. "Let them talk to us when this story is behind them."

The affair highlights a profound fissure within the Israel Defense Forces. While Galant has waged a dogged campaign to become the next army chief, a coalition of equally determined opponents has arisen to block his appointment.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said yesterday that Ashkenazi views the incident "very gravely" and regrets the toll it has taken on the public's trust in the military, whether or not the document is ultimately demonstrated to be authentic. A forum of the General Staff will convene today at Tel Aviv's Kirya defense compound for its weekly meeting, attended by several of the leading figures in the Galant affair.

Both IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and GOC Northern Command Gadi Eizenkot are expected to quit their positions should Galant be selected as Ashkenazi's successor.

The incident has also posed difficult questions for media outlets. Yesterday the editors of several leading websites and television stations received warnings from individuals representing the officers named in the affair. The editors were threatened with libel suits should their allegations, which the officers' representatives described as unfounded, be published.

The scandal surrounding the Galant document is unlikely to end soon. Yesterday, two days after the story first broke, the process of selecting a new army chief suffered a considerable setback. But more than anything, the affair reveals a military upper echelon in which image-molding and backstabbing seem to be common practice.

It is not the first time similarly uncomfortable allegations have emerged from the IDF top brass, but rarely have they received such wide media coverage or led to such deep public outrage.

Tomer Zarchin contributed to this report.