Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once commented that Israel did not
have foreign policy, only domestic politics.
observation, one can say that two top Israeli security and military officials,
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Chief of Staff Major- General Gabi
Ashkenazi, have been motivated by personal ambitions rather than genuine
concerns for national security, or so it appears from what has been dubbed the
For more than two years now, the convoluted affair has
dominated the concerns of the security establishment, poisoning the atmosphere
among the top brass, and occupying the Israel Police, the State Comptroller, the
Attorney General, the media and the public at large.
manipulations, spins and roller-coaster rides of the parties involved are
difficult to explain and even harder to understand.
In a nutshell, it can
be summed up as an affair rooted in the bad blood between Barak and Ashkenazi
when the two were in office together. Instead of working in harmony and
collaborating with each other for the good of the nation, the two developed a
mutual hatred and distrust, which damaged national
Well-informed officials say that the Barak- Ashkenazi animosity
sprung from the cabinet deliberations in the spring-summer of 2007, before the
decision to attack and destroy a Syrian nuclear reactor in September of the same
year. It was reported by foreign media (including in the book, “Spies Against
Armageddon,” which I co-authored) that Barak was staunchly opposed to the
bombing of the Syrian reactor.
The defense minister kept voicing strong
objections to the operation. He did not say that he was opposed to bombing Syria
in principle, but suggested that Israel still had time, that there was no need
for haste. Barak tried to convince Ashkenazi to support him in his opposition to
the proposed air strike; but the Chief of Staff sided with his fellow generals
and with Meir Dagan, head of the Mossad intelligence agency and with Yuval
Diskin, head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet). They all supported Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert, who was the main driving force behind the approval of the
The Israel Air Force bombed the reactor in the Dir
a-Zur region in Syria on September 6, 2007, under a veil of total secrecy; and
only six months later did the US government announce that the destroyed target
had been a nuclear plant built with North Korea’s assistance.
never officially admitted to carrying out the bombing.
From that moment
on, Barak regarded Ashkenazi as a “traitor,” and did everything possible to
interfere in his daily running of the Israel Defense Forces. For example, Barak
delayed and failed to confirm the appointment of senior officers promoted by
Ashkenazi. At the same time, Barak conspired to replace Ashkenazi with his
favored candidate, Lieut.-Gen. Yoav Galant, head of Southern
Ashkenazi became very suspicious of Barak, even paranoid, and he
began believing the spate of vicious rumors that were circulating.
two polarized “courts” were created at the “Kirya” in Tel Aviv – the
headquarters of the IDF and the Defense Ministry.
And like in royal
courts, the two “kings” were surrounded by lackeys, servants, informers and
Into this mélange of intrigue, stepped Lieut.-Col. Boaz
Harpaz. In his late 40s and a product of the covert world of intelligence,
Harpaz served in the early 90s in a noncombatant capacity at the headquarters of
Sayeret Matkal, the elite special forces unit.
Later he became a staff officer at a unit known in Hebrew as Mem Mem. The two
letters are a Hebrew acronym for Special Operations. Mem Mem was a super-secret
unit under the direct command of the head of Military Intelligence. Prior to the
Harpaz affair, the unit’s name and missions were censored and never revealed to
the public. It can be reported now, however, that Mem Mem deals with planning,
coordinating and supplying unique intelligence equipment for special operations
in near and distant enemy countries. The unit is also in close contact with all
other intelligence organizations, including the Mossad, Shin Bet, the IAF and
special forces units.
Harpaz proved himself to be
He was a hard-working, tireless planner and logistics
troubleshooter. By the nature of its work, the unit’s officers, usually
mid-level ranks, have unprecedented access to senior officers at the General
Staff and they can even rub shoulders with defense ministers and prime ministers
when they come to brief them before each operation is approved. Through these
channels, Harpaz met and was befriended by Ashkenazi. In 2004, Harpaz was forced
to leave the IDF after he was found guilty of violating field security.
Ashkenazi tried to reverse the decision but failed.
Harpaz was deprived
of his top security clearance, left the IDF and, like many former security
officials and officers, turned into a “security consultant”– a spruced-up word
for arms dealer. Using his old contacts, he pressured his way to getting
permission to export security hardware and software to Italy and other
Despite his dubious past, he continued to be welcome at Mem
Mem, rubbing shoulders with his former buddies and walking freely through the
corridors of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff. The oldboys network
proved to be useful. When Ashkenazi visited Italy, Harpaz followed him to Rome
and asked to be introduced to the Italian Chief of Staff.
became known in military and defense circles as “Ashkenazi’s friend,” and also
the friend of Ronit, a real estate agent, who happened to be the ambitious wife
of the Chief of Staff. At the height of the affair, Harpaz and Ronit Ashkenazi
exchanged more than 1,000 text messages. In cruder language, Harpaz was termed
“the fixer” and the “door opener” to Ashkenazi’s bureau. Intelligence officers
who were looking for promotion turned to Harpaz.
The ties between the
major general, his wife and the colonel deepened. Sensing that the rift with
Barak was taking its toll on Ashkenazi, Harpaz offered his services to spy on
Barak – and Ashkenazi agreed, feeling that he had been betrayed by the defense
minister. The go-between was Colonel Erez Weiner, Ashkenazi’s chief of
Harpaz began to feed Weiner and Ashkenazi with information –
partly gossip, partly educated speculation, partly half-truths, which he had
assembled from his unauthorized sorties in the corridors of
Ashkenazi began to believe that Harpaz had genuine sources within
Barak’s inner circle – but he didn’t.
Harpaz eventu ally compiled a short
document, which he fabricated to look like a plan put together by Eyal Arad, a
leading PR consultant known to be close to Barak, to target Ashkenazi. Harpaz
even downloaded Arad’s company’s logo from its website and attached it to the
document. The document purported to present the argument that Yoav Galant must
soon replace Ashkenazi.
The “document” made its way from Weiner’s office
to a number of Ashkenazi’s old friends, including current Mossad chief Tamir
Pardo. They in turn, presented the document as a “leak” to the Channel 2
television station. The TV reporters swallowed the bait and introduced the
document as a sinister plan by Barak’s inner circle court to smear
Harpaz’s plot seemed to be working. But very soon the course
of events was reversed.
Arad complained to the police about the forged
document¸ and a subsequent investigation revealed that Harpaz was the forger.
Initially, he admitted to fabricating the document; but he later changed his
story and denied he was the perpetrator.
The police have recommended
indicting him, but the case is still in the hands of the Attorney General who
has not yet decided how to proceed.
Parallel to the police investigation,
the State Comptroller’s Office opened its own inquiry into the affair. While the
two investigations were underway, Barak and Ashkenazi attacked each other
verbally. Barak alleged that the Chief of Staff had essentially been involved in
a military “putsch” against him; Ashkenazi, on the other hand, claimed that he
was the victim of an ugly smear campaign initiated by Barak.
Comptroller’s report was published in early January and portrays an ugly picture
of what had motivated and occupied the time of the top two officials of the
security establishment. “It is shocking,” said MK Uri Ariel, the chairman of the
Knesset State Control Committee, which dealt with the report, “for Israeli
parents who send their boys to the military with the hope that they are
entrusted in good hands to find out the truth about our
Following the Comptroller’s report, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz
moved swiftly to dismiss Colonel Erez Weiner from the IDF.
was Ashkenazi’s aide, was harshly criticized in the report. Gantz promised to
cleanse the army of the “rotten” smell of the Harpaz affair.