The state comptroller's damning report on the so-called Harpaz affair on Sunday elicited strong responses in the political system and renewed calls for a criminal investigation or a state commission of inquiry.
The report offers a vivid account of the bitter rivalry between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and then Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi between 2010 and 2011 in the run-up to the decision over who would be appointed as Israel's next chief of general staff. It also portrays the intense efforts each party undertook to undermine the other.
The more than 29-month old Harpaz affair, which erupted in August 2010, culminated Sunday in what was damning report focused largely on Ashkenazi and, to a lesser extent, on Barak. State Comptroller and Ombudsman Yosef Shapira investigated the unfolding of events leading up to the forgery of the so-called Harpaz Document, which alleged that Barak was orchestrating a public relations campaign that would disgrace then-IDF chief Ashkenazi and tout the advantages of his preferred candidate to replace him, then GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant. As it turned out, the document was forged, apparently by an ally of Ashkenazi, Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz, who had hoped it would be attributed to Barak and Galant and cast a negative light on them.
The report depicts a highly troubling account of the infighting between the two bureaus entrusted with the security of Israel's citizens. It faults the former IDF chief of general staff for allowing his bureau chief Col. Erez Weiner to dig up dirt on Defense Minister Ehud Barak in what was an apparent attempt to derail Galant's appointment as Ashkenazi's successor. The report also apportions blame to Barak for obstructing the defense establishment's day-to-day affairs by refusing to sign off on hundreds of Ashkenazi's would-be appointees in the military. A particular bone of contention was who would serve as deputy chief of general staff. The report condemns Barak's use of the media to attack Ashkenazi over the disagreements. "As the head of the political echelon in charge [of the military] he should have refrained from publicly attacking an IDF officer who was on active duty and should have found a way to mend fences and de-escalate the tensions."
According to Shapira, Ashkenazi was the one who told Harpaz to contact Weiner after he became worried Barak was trying to attack him publicly. "The chief of general staff," writes Shapira, "believed Harpaz had a document or some other information that showed Barak and his inner circle had plans to wage a smear campaign against the army's top officer."
But Ashkenazi claims he was not actively involved in countering Barak's alleged campaign. According to the report, he told Shapira that he had a hands-off approach when it came to the efforts to hurt Barak. Shapira partially confirms that account. "After Weiner showed him the so called Harpaz Document, Ashkenazi instructed his bureau chief to ignore its content." But nevertheless, the report says, Weiner provided Ashkenazi with occasional updates on the information Harpaz was providing him. The report claims Ashkenazi was aware of the ongoing talks between Weiner and Harpaz, at least part of the time. Ashkenazi did not work to have this line of communication severed all the while consuming the information Weiner was providing him from Harpaz. "Through his inaction, Ashkenazi effectively let Weiner's efforts continue unabated," Shapira wrote. "Such a situation was particularly troubling in that it undermined the civilian control of the military and challenged Barak's authority as Ashkenazi's immediate superior."
"By not ending this information-gathering effort and through his de facto consumption of that information he [Ashkenazi] engaged in improper behavior, even if this was in the context of the then-chief of general staff's strained relations vis-à-vis Barak," writes Shapira.
Shapira further writes that "Ashkenazi, having realized that Weiner was still maintaining ties with Harpaz, should have instructed Weiner to cease his efforts [to collect information]."
"Ashkenazi's first and foremost duty was to prevent Weiner's activity vis-à-vis Harpaz from the get-go," Shapira writes. "In any event, the chief of general staff, upon being handed the Harpaz Document, was obliged to find out who was behind it and determine its authenticity; Ashkenazi was also responsible for the above-mentioned activity of Col. Weiner and Lt. Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz — even if he [Ashkenazi] was not fully aware of the exact nature of their relationship."
"Once he received the document and began to use it, he was duty-bound, from an ethical and managerial standpoint, to pursue a thorough investigation in light of its problematic content and because he was the commander of the officers it mentioned. … By failing to investigate the matter Ashkenazi helped create the false impression that the Harpaz Document was supposedly authored by Barak's surrogates."
Shapira then goes on to say that despite Ashkenazi's mishandling of the Harpaz document "no evidence was found to suggest Ashkenazi was involved in publishing the Harpaz Document and having it leaked to the media."
"The Chief of General Staff's delayed response was inappropriate; one would have expected him to forward the document to the police after learning of a [police] investigation being underway," Shapira writes. "The information-gathering efforts and the handling of the Harpaz Document are mind-boggling; the relationship between Minister Barak and Ashkenazi, however ugly and complex, could not have justified the foul play demonstrated by the opposition research on minister Barak and his staff with Ashkenazi's, partial if not full, knowledge and the activity of the then-chief of general staff and his aide [Weiner] regarding the Harpaz document."
"The fact that some faults were found in Barak's treatment of the then-chief of general staff could not justify or provide grounds for the military echelon's behavior vis-à-vis the elected civilian echelon," Shapira writes.
The report reignited the debate on whether the affair merits criminal investigation or even warrants a state commission of inquiry, like the one created in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War to investigated Israel's lack of preparedness. Knesset State Control Committee Chairman MK Uri Yehuda Ariel (National Union) has already said that he would convene his committee next week to discuss the report. Shortly after the report was made public Sunday, Ariel attacked Ashkenazi's conduct, saying that "the norms that governed Chief of General Staff Ashkenazi's bureau may metastasize like cancer, and therefore they must be uprooted before they deal a crushing blow to democracy." He further said that he would work to have a state commission of inquiry established to "conduct a thorough investigation to remove this blemish from the defense establishment and codify new moral and ethical guidelines to prevent such a repeat of this affair." He further said that the Harpaz affair should be called the Ashkenazi affair.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel also called on Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to launch a criminal investigation into the matter on Sunday. "The movement expresses bewilderment over the fact that the attorney general is violating the law by withholding his response over whether a criminal investigation would be conducted to this very day." Ometz, another government watchdog, wrote the attorney-general on Sunday, urging him to begin criminal proceedings against Harpaz, saying that "the publication of the state comptroller's report would be the proper moment to file an indictment, regardless of what Weinstein decides on the matter of a criminal investigation." The State Prosecution has already penned a draft indictment against Harpaz and plans to charge him with forgery of a document with the intent of influencing the appointment of a chief of general staff. A final decision on whether to prosecute Harpaz depends on the outcome of a pre-trial hearing.
Barak's office also called for a more extensive investigation in the form of a State Commission of Inquiry or even have Weinstein launch a criminal investigation, as former State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss recommended in May. "The publication of the report is not an end point but a point of origin for what should be a legal process to investigate this affair, uncover the truth and eradicate the faults that were exposed," Barak said in a statement Monday. "The report underscores how severe this affair was, making it one of the most troubling affairs Israel has ever witnessed. It is now imperative to have a criminal investigation and a state commission of inquiry." In November Weinstein told Lindenstrauss' successor, Shapira, that a decision on whether to instruct the police to launch a criminal investigation will be made after he reviewed all the evidence.
"The report paints the chief of general staff's bureau as a body that was engaged in supposedly criminal behavior; Erez Weiner, Boaz Harpaz and others served, according to their own testimony, as 'foot soldiers' of the former Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi throughout the affair," Barak's statement continued. "Ashkenazi was the one who, according to their testimony, stood at the top of the pyramid when it came to what was going on inside his office. The report outlines the activities that are, at their very core, a conspiracy to undercut proper governance and included insubordination, obstructionism relating to the legal appointment of a chief of general staff, the forgery of a document and its subsequent use, the stymieing of an investigation, breach of trust, as well as behavior that is unbecoming of an officer."
Barak went on to say that "this activity saw a methodical effort to dig up dirt on the minister of defense, his wife, top officials in his office, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant and other top officers; Ashkenazi dealt a blow to the IDF's values and its spirit."
"His actions, which were detailed in the report, serve as a moral disgrace and a form of turpitude that must be eradicated," the statement read. "Not a single individual who knows the IDF or served in a prominent position in that organization believes Weiner and Harpaz acted without his [Ashkenazi's] direction, guidance, and knowledge. The parts in the report that deal with the minister of defense relates to manners and niceties; all the actions that are attributed to the minister (with the exception of his comments on then IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu) took place after the Harpaz Document had already found its way to the chief of general staff's bureau and most of them took place before that, when the relations between the minister and the chief of general staff suffered from diminished trust. No event, of any kind, that takes place as a result of the strained relations between two bureaus should replace the subornation of the chief of general staff to the political echelons."
Ashkenazi also released a statement, saying the report largely vindicated him. Lt. Gen. (res.) "Ashkenazi welcomes the fact that after a comprehensive investigation comprising hundreds of witnesses, thousands of documents and tens of thousands of hours of taped telephone conversations in the chief of staff's bureau, the state comptroller debunked the harsh accusations that have been sent his way over an extended period by the minister of defense and his associates," read the statement. "The state comptroller specifically said that the [former] chief of staff and his associates did not plot a putsch to subvert the political echelons and that Ashkenazi was not involved in the process surrounding the appointment of the next chief of general staff or the nullification of Maj. Gen. Galant's appointment [several months after the Harpaz Document surfaced], nor does it say that Ashkenazi asked to have his tenure [as the IDF chief of general staff] extended to five years."
The statement then goes on to attack Barak, alleging that he treated him improperly. "The State Comptroller was critical of the minister of defense for releasing an unnecessary public statement [that Ashkenazi's term would not be extended]; the state comptroller clearly stated that Ashkenazi and his associates were not involved in writing the Harpaz Document, its forgery and its leaking, and rejects the claims that Ashkenazi used the document as a roadside bomb to torpedo Galant's appointment," the statement read. "The state comptroller's inquiry did not reveal any business relations between Lt. Gen. (res.) Ashkenazi and Harpaz. Ashkenazi has already said that he exercised poor judgement by not forwarding the document to the Attorney General after it was handed to him, and accepts the criticism on that matter. Ashkenazi referred Harpaz to Col. Weiner after the former inquired on various issues, including on the supposed minister of defense plan's against him [Ashkenazi]."
The statement also defends Weiner's conduct, saying it was part of his job description. "Ashkenazi asked Weiner to stay in contact with Harpaz because his daily duties as an aide to the chief of general staff routinely involve contact with many entities on a personal and independent basis. Lt. Gen. (res.) Ashkenazi told the state comptroller that the responsibility for the ties between Weiner and Harpaz falls on him [Ashkenazi] even if those occasionally revolved around pointless gossip."