(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is the "senior military officer" whose credit card was stolen by a security guard at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, a military court released for publication on Sunday.
Military Police discovered a picture of Ashkenazi's credit card on the memory chip of a phone belonging to an IDF security guard who was arrested last month and has been indicted for allegedly stealing three weapons and selling them to Israeli-Arab criminals.
One of the weapons was an old Western-style pistol given to Ashkenazi by a retired American general who recently visited Israel. The pistol was no longer in use and was being stored in a display case near the chief of staff's office when it was stolen.
The involvement of the credit card in the affair has caused the IDF a great deal of embarrassment since a media ban was lifted last Thursday. The suspect, whose name is still banned from publication, was behind two other thefts of M-16 rifles from the Kirya. One was stolen from an office in April and the other from a soldier who was attacked on guard duty in mid-July.
As a security guard, the suspect was occasionally assigned to the 14th floor of the Kirya headquarters, where Ashkenazi's and the deputy chief of staff's offices are located. While all of the offices are locked at night, the guard, who sits in the hallway near the elevators, is given a key to the main hallway in case of fire and to evacuate two soldiers who sleep in a room nearby.
One night, the soldier was on guard duty and apparently began roaming the halls. He ended up at the desk of Ashkenazi's secretary and opened one of the drawers, where he found the chief of staff's credit card and photographed it. He later gave the number to Israeli-Arab criminals whom he owed money.
These criminals, as well as a possible third party, charged some NIS 2,000 to the card before the theft was discovered by Military Police.
According to new details on the case, it now appears that the soldier stole the weapons and credit card to pay for an apartment into which he recently moved with his pregnant girlfriend. The soldier is originally from Argentina and moved to Israel with his family some four years ago.
The breach of security in the chief of staff's office has led the IDF to implement a series of new security measures to prevent future criminal or terror infiltrations.
"This time it was just a credit card that was stolen," one defense official said. "Imagine what would have happened had the soldier tried planting a bomb or microphones in Ashkenazi's office."
One of the problems discovered during the IDF inquiry was that the soldiers who stand guard overnight outside the hallway containing Ashkenazi's and his deputy's offices are regular base security guards who have not undergone a comprehensive background check like the staff working inside the office. This is likely to change. Locks on the some of the office doors on the floor have also been replaced following the breach.
Meanwhile Sunday, MK Nahman Shai (Kadima), a former IDF spokesman and journalist, blasted the culture that allowed the police to petition courts for - and receive - gag orders on potentially embarrassing cases such as the theft.
"There are investigations, such as the break-in at Ashkenazi's office, that are not harmed by the publication of details. It is the public's basic right to know, and it is the law establishment's obligation to guard that right."
Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.