(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Defense Ministry on Thursday night confirmed the discovery of DVDs containing files potentially relating to the Harpaz Affair that former defense minister Ehud Barak had been accused of destroying.
The ministry later clarified that the recordings were possibly only from 2006 and 2012, and therefore may not directly relate to the Harpaz Affair, a scandal which has been haunting the security establishment for more than four years.
The ministry issued the confirmation after Channel 2 broke the story, with a Justice Ministry official saying it learned of the breaking news from the television broadcast, and noting that, to the best of his knowledge, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein had not been informed.
The latest discovery could once again transform an affair that has entangled former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi; the prime minister’s cabinet secretary, former Military Advocate-General Maj.-Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit; former IDF spokesman Brig.- Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu, and other top security officials.
On September 2, the police recommended the indictment of all of the above officials, but Weinstein has yet to decide whether to do so – a decision that may be significantly delayed by the latest developments.
All the allegations relate to the Harpaz Affair, an alleged 2010 plot by Lt.-Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz to illegally undermine then-defense minister Barak’s choice to succeed Ashkenazi as IDF chief of staff, as part of a more general battle between Barak and Ashkenazi involving both sides allegedly spying and spreading misinformation about the other.
Throughout the saga, Ashkenazi has maintained that Barak had intentionally destroyed tapes or DVDs, which if found would implicate Barak in either criminal or unethical behavior, and which might help exonerate Ashkenazi’s actions.
But every investigation – from the State Comptroller’s Office, to the IDF, to the police – concluded that the Barak files were destroyed.
There were questions about the circumstances of the files’ destruction, with Ashkenazi calling it an intentional obstruction of the investigation against Barak and his aides. Barak had suffered only heavy criticism from the State Comptroller’s Office.
The Defense Ministry said the DVDs were found in the safe of a high-ranking official who recently left the ministry.
The ministry said that it had not yet determined the DVDs’ contents and that the ministry’s top attorney had ordered them to be kept in his safe so they could be reviewed, though it appeared he took this decision without notifying the Justice Ministry.
The seeming non-notification of the Justice Ministry may create other drama, as the possible charges against Mandelblit included that he did not immediately turn over evidence to Weinstein, waiting a day to consider the evidence’s legal significance.
In Thursday’s report, Barak repeatedly told Channel 2 that he was “very happy” that the files had been found.
He rejected any suggestion that he might be worried about what is in the files, let alone new criminal allegations against him, and said he looks positively on any future police investigations.
Channel 2 speculated that the DVDs could entangle Barak, and that at the very least the ministry official who was allegedly secretly holding the DVDs could face criminal charges if he could not explain his actions.
In his report in January 2013, the comptroller mentioned Ashkenazi’s allegations that then-defense minister Barak interviewed candidates to succeed then-IDF chief of staff Ashkenazi behind Ashkenazi’s back, something not traditionally done.
Ashkenazi had added that Barak made an effort to downgrade the rating of candidate Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, now the IDF chief of staff, to help Maj.-Gen. Yoav Gallant have a better chance to become the next IDF chief.
The comptroller found that Barak and his aides’ behavior surrounding the appointment of Ashkenazi’s successor, the treatment of Ashkenazi, and the treatment of then-IDF spokesman Benayahu was highly problematic, while also stating that Barak was not connected with drafting the forged Harpaz document that triggered the affair.