The State Comptroller’s Report released on Sunday charts the course of an
ever-escalating feud between the two men in the most senior positions tasked with
managing Israel’s national security, former IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. (res.)
Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Relations between their
two bureaus became dysfunctional to a worrying degree, the report
The first known clash between them broke out over the issue of
senior IDF appointments.
Barak believes that despite traditional
protocol, a defense minister should be able to suggest his own candidates for
senior IDF positions, such as the next chief of staff, and not just approve or
veto the chief of staff’s candidates, the report said.
On the other hand,
Ashkenazi believed that the current protocol should be preserved, and that the
chief of staff should retain the exclusive authority to name
The two men clashed over who should replace the deputy of
chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel, in 2009. Barak wanted OC Southern Command
Maj.- Gen. Yoav Galant for the job, while Ashkenazi wanted OC Northern Command
Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.
Eventually, they decided to appoint
then-military attaché in the United States Benny Gantz to the position, and
Barak kept Galant as OC Southern Command, earmarking him as potential chief of
Ashkenazi later told the state comptroller that Barak sought to
carry out a range of senior appointments in the IDF’s General
Ashkenazi said Barak sabotaged all of his proposed appointments,
not just that of the deputy chief of staff, and he asked Barak to help move the
“Nothing happened. [I received] no answer. Tell me, what
is a chief of staff, who wants to carry out senior appointments, [which are]
supervised, according to the criteria, to do in such a situation?... I
The state comptroller identified this clash as the
beginning of a serious deterioration in relations between Ashkenazi and
Disagreements continued over the question of who should be the
next coordinator of government activities in the territories. The argument
resulted in a paralysis of the appointment process, and no replacement was made
for a year. The role was temporarily filled by the Defense Ministry’s head of
political-military affairs, Maj.-Gen. Amos Gilad, who continued to fill his
original position as well, placing him under a very heavy workload.
state comptroller said the paralysis was out of line and created an unreasonable
The feud escalated yet further when Ashkenazi refused to
promote a senior officer to the rank of major-general for the last few months of
his service, as Barak requested, and to appoint him coordinator of government
activities in the territories for a month. Ashkenazi called the appointment
Barak defended the proposed appointment, saying that “in
every government system... in the IDF... and in the State Comptroller’s Office,
it is acceptable to sometimes present a person with a retirement rank,” adding
that such a promise had been made to the officer.
The state comptroller
said that the way in which Barak appointed the officer, and his short tenure,
The Comptroller’s Report said the disputes described
above illustrate the “urgent need to reach an arrangement regarding the defense
minister’s involvement in certain appointments.”
Barak responded by
saying that he plans to formulate regulations together with the current chief of
staff, Lt.-Gen. Gantz, on the thorny issue of appointments.
took a further point of contention to make the feud public.
when Barak released a blistering denial of a Channel 1 report suggesting that
Ashkenazi would have his term as chief of staff extended by one year, following
the completion of his four-year term.
The state comptroller said that
Barak told his spokesman to phone journalists and deny the report, and to
attribute it to the IDF spokesman at the time, Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu. The
denial also included the charge that the report cheapened the institution of
chief of staff.
Benayahu soon responded to Barak’s message, denying any
link to the Channel 1 report and refusing “to be dragged into personal, baseless
Looking back on the exchange, the state comptroller said, “This
incident triggered the public confrontation between Defense Minister Barak and
former Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi and their aides.”
cited Ashkenazi’s aide Col. Erez Viner as saying that the incident marked the
start of the “open war.”
Benayahu later told the comptroller that Barak’s
attack on him was “unprecedented,” and caused him “much
Barak responded by saying that the report required a reply,
as it was broadcast during a primetime news program, and, left unanswered, would
turn into an accepted fact.
The state comptroller said Barak’s response
was a catalyst for increasing tensions between the defense minister and the
chief of staff, adding that “this storm could have been prevented had Barak
from wrongly accusing a senior IDF officer, the then-IDF
spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Benayahu.”
Although relations between the
two men were already very bad, things took a turn for the worse once again after
Barak publicly announced that Ashkenazi’s term would not extended, a decision
Ashkenazi told him was incomprehensible to him, as he “did not request a fifth
While the state comptroller said that Barak did not violate
protocol in making the announcement, he did question the need to make it 10
months before the end of Ashkenazi’s tenure. This served to “increase tensions,”
the report said.
In another section, the document charges Barak with
failing to approve part of a set of instructions designed for the IDF’s senior
command, as an attempt to pressure the chief of staff to make adjustments to the
“The State Comptroller’s Office notes that this is not a
proper step... A lack of approval of the instructions... [which are] important
and deal with the designation and tasks of a number of branches in the General
Staff, can disrupt the intactness of IDF work. Minister Barak must act to ensure
that the instructions... are approved as soon as possible,” the report
The relationship between the two men forms an issue that has “most
problematic and disturbing aspects,” the report said.
While a certain
built-in tension between a defense minister and a chief of staff is natural, the
bad working relations between the two figures – who carry the security of the
country on their shoulders – created a worrying situation, to the extent that it
had the potential to undermine the public’s faith in the security forces and its
heads, the state comptroller said. The same deterioration was experienced by the
two men’s staff toward one another.
Both Ashkenazi and Barak should have
been aware of the damage being caused, and should have worked to end to the
confrontation, to restore communications between their bureaus, which is vital
to the function of the security forces, the report said.
comptroller added that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should have tried to
resolve the feud by spring 2010.
Nevertheless, the comptroller said, the
poor state of relations cannot serve as a justification for the act of
assembling information on Barak and his bureau, which the comptroller said was
carried out by Ashkenazi’s aide Col. Erez Viner, with the knowledge of
Nor could it justify the conduct of Ashkenazi and his aide
regarding the Harpaz document, the comptroller said.
“The fact that flaws
were found in Barak’s conduct toward the chief of staff of the time, as detailed
above, does not provide any sort of justification for the conduct of the
military echelon toward the elected government echelon,” the report
Neither side acted on the basis of a plan to harm the other,
despite beliefs held by both camps to the contrary, the comptroller
Barak did not formulate a plan to harm Ashkenazi or to force him to
finish his term early and “bruised,” as Ashkenazi had charged, and Ashkenazi did
not produce any plan to continue to serve illegally into a fifth year, or carry
out a “putsch” against Galant, as Barak claimed, the report
The mutual accusations of premeditated steps are the result of
partial information, rumors and evaluations, not solid facts, the report said.