The Harpaz Affair / Fresh Allegations Arebad News for Gabi Ashkenazi

The allegations made by Channel 1, on the story that caused a storm in the security establishment, contradict the version of events that Ashkenazi gave his officers when the affair broke last summer.

New accusations in the Harpaz affair - a smear campaign against a potential candidate for the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff last year - present former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi in a very uncomfortable light.

The allegations, by Channel 1 journalist Ayala Hasson-Nesher, on the story that caused a storm in the security establishment, contradict the version of events that Ashkenazi gave his officers when the affair broke last summer, and reveal new aspects of some previously unexplored connections between the various parties.

Gabi Ashkenazi
Olivier Fitoussi

Neither the Ashkenazi family nor the investigating authorities have denied the claims.

A brief reminder: Last August, Channel 2 reported the existence of a document that appeared to be a plan to promote Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as the next chief of staff after Ashkenazi by sullying Galant's competition. The revelation was followed by a wave of conspiracy accusations ostensibly involving Galant and the bureau of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

But then the police revealed that the document had been forged by Lt. Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz. Although Harpaz and Ashkenazi had known each other for years, Ashkenazi denied any connection to the forgery or leaking the document. That, despite the fact that his aide, Col. Erez Weiner, removed a copy of the document from Ashkenazi's bureau 24 hours before the story was aired on Channel 2.

Harpaz confessed to the forgery and said he acted alone. Galant was appointed chief of staff, but the appointment was withdrawn after a separate investigation by the State Comptroller's Office found he had flaunted building laws with regard to his home on Moshav Amikam and was suspected of lying about it.

Hasson-Nesher reported Friday that Harpaz and Ashkenazi's wife, Ronit Ashkenazi, had exchanged more than 1,500 text messages. It emerged that Ronit Ashkenazi apparently mediated between Harpaz and residents of Moshav Amikam who had information against Galant, urging Harpaz to give the information to the press.

According to Hasson-Nesher, Ronit Ashkenazi also told Harpaz that the document was about to be reported on Channel 2, about two hours before it aired.

After the report, Gabi Ashkenazi and Harpaz spoke on the phone. A few days later, Weiner apparently told Harpaz that Ashkenazi had talked to the police and warned him that investigators were on their way.

In correspondence between Ronit Ashkenazi and Harpaz, she also said her husband wanted Harpaz's opinion about the promotion of a certain officer who had served with Harpaz, according to Hasson-Nesher's report. She also apparently asked for Harpaz's help enlisting a major donor from Mexico, whose contribution Harpaz had drafted for a program of benefits for combat soldiers, with a real-estate deal.

In response to Hasson-Nesher's report, Gabi Ashkenazi said he was cooperating with the investigation and awaiting publication of the state comptroller's report.

Common denominator

The common denominator in the elements of Hasson-Nesher's report is the depth of the connection between Harpaz and Ronit Ashkenazi, and through her, it might seem, with her husband.

Hasson-Nesher also broadcast a taped conversation Friday between her and Harpaz in which he told her he had been at Ashkenazi's home "enough times," although Ashkenazi had told his officers at the time the affair broke that Harpaz was not a guest in his home.

The Ashkenazi camp's line of defense has been coincidence: Harpaz and Ashkenazi knew each other, but Ashkenazi did not know the document was forged and certainly did not solicit it. Weiner gave the document indirectly to the media without Ashkenazi's knowledge, the latter said.

But Hasson-Nesher's report calls this version of the facts into serious question. Why did Ashkenazi apparently inform Harpaz about the report two hours before it aired? And what did Ashkenazi's and his aide's alleged phone calls with Harpaz after the story broke mean?

Hasson-Nesher's report also provides the first proof of Galant's suspicion that the information about the lands in Amikam, which mass-circulation daily Maariv first exposed back in 2008, was given a new boost only after the document plot failed.

Sources close to Galant say one of Galant's neighbors in Amikam, who became an adversary following squabbling over the nuisance of a cattle farm in the moshav, illegally obtained the documents that reached the Ashkenazi camp and eventually the State Comptroller's Office.

Hasson-Nesher's report also calls into question the quality of the police work last summer on the matter. The investigation apparently ignored other aspects of the affair, among them suspicions that Ashkenazi had attempted by illegitimate means to obtain a fifth year in office, to trip up Galant's appointment and even cause Barak's downfall.

The police seem to have jumped too quickly to the conclusion that Harpaz had acted alone, and the Shin Bet security service, which could have investigated the text messages at the time, apparently intentionally did not do so.

Faulty police work could compromise the state comptroller's report. Can the state comptroller contradict the police's insistance, however illogical, that Harpaz worked alone? Not for nothing has the state comptroller recently shown an interest in transcripts of conversations between Ashkenazi's bureau at the time and that of the former police commissioner, David Cohen, during the critical weeks in August last year.