Barak accuses Ashkenazi of assisting Harpaz flee

Likud ministers hope to persuade PM to let cabinet vote on two options for chief of staff: Temporary Naveh role or Ashkenazi extension.

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February 3, 2011 20:30
3 minute read.
Ehud Barak and Gabi Ashkenazi

barak ashkenazi 311. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)

 
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Defense Minister Ehud Barak continued to lash out at IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on Thursday, a day after accusing the army chief of ethical and professional flaws.

The tension between the two top defense officials has increased amid calls by politicians and public figures to extend Ashkenazi’s term as chief of staff beyond his scheduled retirement on February 14 and until the cabinet appoints a suitable successor.

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Barak has decided not to extend Ashkenazi’s term and is insisting on bringing a proposal to appoint Maj.-Gen.

Yair Naveh, Ashkenazi’s deputy, to serve as the interim army chief until he selects a permanent candidate. If Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not intervene beforehand, the proposal will be voted on during the cabinet’s weekly session on Sunday.

In the latest round of conflict, Barak’s office on Thursday accused Ashkenazi of trying to help Lt.-Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz, the alleged forger of the so-called Galant Document, to flee the country.

The story, first reported by Army Radio, began several weeks ago when Harpaz submitted a request to the Defense Ministry for permission to travel to Venezuela for business.



Venezuela is a particularly sensitive country due to its strong ties with Iran.

Harpaz was briefed on precautions he should take during his trip due to things he knows from his long service in a special branch of Military Intelligence.

At this point, Barak’s office became suspicious that Harpaz was planning to flee the country due to his impending indictment, and convened various IDF and security officials to discuss the trip.

The meeting was attended by Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen.

Yair Naveh, OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi and legal officials from the Defense Ministry. Ashkenazi was not at the meeting since he was at a NATO conference in Brussels.

According to sources in Barak’s office, Ashkenazi intervened and called Kochavi to prevent him from recommending that Harpaz not be allowed to travel overseas.

In the end, Interior Minister Eli Yishai issued an order banning Harpaz from leaving the country.

IDF sources rejected the allegations and said that Ashkenazi was not directly involved in the discussions regarding Harpaz’s travel request. Ashkenazi, the sources said, was briefed on the meeting at Barak’s office but did not voice an opinion, and even upon his return from Brussels continued to allow Naveh to lead the IDF position on the issue.

“These are baseless accusations aimed at creating a false façade that the chief of staff and his office tried to help Boaz Harpaz flee the country,” the sources said.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Barak met with Naveh, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and former deputy chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. (res.) Benny Gantz, and interviewed the three men, who are viewed as leading candidates to succeed Ashkenazi. Barak’s office said that the defense minister might interview additional candidates as well.

Likud ministers said they tried to persuade Netanyahu on Thursday to allow ministers at Sunday’s cabinet meeting to vote on two options: Barak’s proposal to appoint Naveh for up to 60 days an alternative proposal to extend Ashkenazi’s tenure. They expressed hope that they could persuade him by Sunday.

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon is expected to lead several Likud ministers in opposing appointing Naveh at the meeting.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni called on the cabinet members to vote according to their consciences against appointing a temporary chief of General Staff, rather than act as a rubber stamp for Barak.

“The combination of a weak prime minister and a defense minister who is a bully with poor judgement is very problematic for Israel and its security,” Livni said. “It would be irresponsible to appoint someone temporarily at a time when the region is so unstable just because the defense minister doesn’t get along with the chief of General Staff who has been running the army and its operations successfully for three years.”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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