Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told police that he had a copy of the document at the center of a row over the appointment of the next Israel Defense Forces chief of staff weeks before it was exposed on a Channel 2 television news show on August 6.
The document, featuring the logo of Arad Communications, is said to outline a public relations campaign for GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant, who is among the candidates to succeed Ashkenazi. The police now believe it was forged, part of a plot involving serving and retired senior IDF officers.
Dozens of people have given statements to police in connection to the affair. Investigators are expected to begin questioning suspects under caution.
Significant details about the affair emerged yesterday, after more than a week that saw only minor leaks to the media.
Ashekanazi turned out to be the key source of information for the police. It was he who admitted to them that the “Galant document” was at his office for weeks and that he did nothing with it. He gave a copy to the police, causing them to defer their request for a court order to force Channel 2 to release its copy of the document.
Police may still want to see Channel 2’s copy, in the hope that it could contribute to the investigation.
After questioning and giving polygraph tests to senior Arad Communications employees, investigators now believe they were not involved in creating the document. Some junior staff members have yet to speak to police, but they are not considered main suspects.
While investigators now believe the entire document was a fake, they do not yet know who was behind it or what the motives were.
Another possibility being examined is that the document was a draft composed by a supporter of Galant’s bid for the top IDF job or by someone close to Defense Minister Ehud Barak that later fell into the hands of an opponent of Galant and Barak, who added Arad’s logo. This scenario is considered unlikely.
If the main avenue of investigation shows promise, police will consider the possibility that senior IDF officers were behind the plot.
While Ashkenazi is not suspected of any criminal offenses in the case, his behavior is seriously puzzling both on the command and ethical levels. At around noon yesterday it was reported that he gave the document to Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit shortly before Channel 2 broke the story.
State Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said in a statement last night that MAG was not in possession of the document at any point. This means that for weeks the most senior officer in the army held a copy of a document that seems to suggest a conspiracy to cause a rift between him and his boss, the defense minister, as well as to crown Galant as his successor and discredit other candidates for the position.
My knowledge of Ashkenazi’s boundless distrust of Barak, as well as the relationship between the defense minister’s bureau and Galant, leads me to believe that it’s likely that the chief of staff mistakenly believed that the document was genuine.
So what did Ashkenazi do? Absolutely nothing. He didn’t tell Barak about it, he didn’t summon Galant for clarifications, he didn’t ask either Weinstein or Mendelblit to order an immediate investigation.
Moreover, the police discovered that the existence of the document was known to certain figures in the General Staff four months before the story was made public.
On the face of it, Ashkenazi made a misstep here. He created for himself an image of “Mr. Discipline,” the man who rebuilt the IDF following the failures of the Second Lebanon War. This is a man who is instructing thousands of IDF officers on the value of serious, top-down investigation, who demands full disclosure and has zero tolerance for ethical misconduct.
But here, in a case that seems to have all the elements of a sophisticated attempt to bring down the defense minister − nothing was done. Ashkenazi has dismissed senior officers for much less.
What has emerged from the initial stages of the investigation and the statements of senior officers and their aides is that relations at the top in the Defense Ministry and the IDF are poor. This is genuine cause for concern: There is growing tension on the border with Gaza, but the three people who are supposed to be in charge of the situation − Barak, Ashkenazi and Galant − are barely on speaking terms.
As for the prime minister, it seems that Benjamin Netanyahu lost interest in the case the minute it emerged that Eyal Arad, his sworn enemy and former adviser, was not connected to the scheme.
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