The IDF Chief's Dilemma

The Galant case currently reads like a John Le Carre novel, where characters turn from loyal to treasonous and from villains into heroes.

Any journalist who finds his own news, as opposed to only writing about it, has faced this problem: Becoming a hostage to his material. Should he publish it or shelve it? If he rushes it out, he might learn that he didn't investigate enough; if he waits too long, others may beat him to it, and may even believe he had conspired to keep the story quiet.

IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant, Defense Minister Ehud Barak
Tomer Appelbaum, Moti Kimche, Alon Ron

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is no journalist, and for all we know, he's not even a writer. He was not the person who composed the Galant document, the shadowy memo that has been seizing headlines for the past two weeks. But the dilemma he faced in recent months was a purely journalistic one. He had been given a document with explosive potential, and he was one of its targets. It involves military affairs, but there's no evidence military personnel were involved in writing it, even Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, whom Ashkenazi did not want to see become his successor.

What should he have done? Should he have investigated it or kept it quiet? Should he have ordered the information security department or the military police to find out who wrote it? On what grounds?

Ashkenazi sat on this dilemma for too long. As a result, now that it has become public knowledge that he was the one who gave the document to the police, his conduct is being justly criticized. As one of the people who had the document before it became public, he will be regarded as one of the people who played a role in its publication.

He also misled the public: In his first statement on the morning the investigation began, he was careful not to lie, but he didn't say the truth, either - that he had had the document.

Ashkenazi's supporters would argue he found himself between the rock of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the hard place of Galant. On the day when Barak reluctantly agreed to have Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz appointed deputy chief of staff, after Ashkenazi rejected Galant, Galant and Barak met for a private conversation. What they said can only be presumed, but following the meeting Galant decided not to retire from the army and to wait for the big race for chief of staff. This was circumstantial although not absolute evidence that Galant is Barak's preferred candidate.

The document, which was mysteriously obtained and publicized by Channel 2, was not meant to persuade Barak to choose Galant. It reads like a series of scenarios and proposed reactions for the hours and days after such a decision is taken, when there won't be time for cold, calculated planning.

The authors anticipated negative reactions to such an appointment, including from Ashkenazi: Both the incumbent and the rejected candidates could make negative comments about Galant. The resulting public storm could undermine the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised Barak his backing but has proven capable of retreating when under pressure.

Every chief of staff receives letters and messages, signed or anonymous, ahead of major appointments. Barak, when he himself was a promotion-hungry general, knew how to go past then-chief of staff Rafael Eitan and speak directly with Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. It wouldn't be surprising if Ashkenazi were to wonder whether the Galant-Barak connection is passing over him.

None of this means the document was real or forged, but only that when it reached Ashkenazi, it found an interested reader. Who sent him the document is the question that Ashkenazi and his assistant, Col. Erez Weiner, the next IDF education officer, will discuss with the police.

The police are concerned with where the memo came from, not where it went after reaching Ashkenazi's office. The current suspicion is that the authors are five or six confidants, including reserve officers, the most senior of whom is a colonel or brigadier general. The investigators still don't know to which faction the authors belonged.

As of yesterday, the investigators thought they were entering the last, crucial third of the investigation. The working assumption was that Barak's associates were not involved in composing the document, and neither were employees of Eyal Arad's consultancy firm, whose name appeared on the document. But the investigators are avoiding placing too much faith in their assumption: The case currently reads like a John Le Carre novel, where characters turn from loyal to treasonous and from villains into heroes.