While US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu discussed
ways this week to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, an atomic bomb
was going off at the Kirya Military Headquarters and Defense Ministry in Tel
This one was not connected to Iran, but rather had to do with the
infamous Harpaz Affair and the release of the State Comptroller’s draft report
to the involved IDF and Defense Ministry officials.
The Harpaz Affair is
named for Boaz Harpaz, a former military intelligence officer who allegedly
forged a document detailing a strategy of how to get former OC Southern Command
maj.-gen. (res.) Yoav Galant appointed chief of staff in place of Gabi
Ashkenazi. Defense Minister Ehud Barak wanted Galant for the role, while
Ashkenazi was believed to have wanted a fifth year in the job for
The document was leaked in 2010 to Channel 2 and was later
discovered to have been forged. While Galant was tapped by the government as the
next chief of staff, he ultimately lost the appointment due to an unconnected
land affair involving his home in Moshav Amikam.
It will still take
another month or two for the final report to be released to the public, but what
has already been leaked from the draft raises serious questions regarding the
interaction between the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff.
is unclear though is what set off the war between Barak and Ashkenazi – one that
has led Barak to accuse Ashkenazi of leading a coup with several of the officers
who worked closely with him, and for attempting to undermine the government’s
authority over the IDF.
By repeating the accusation that Ashkenazi was
planning a coup, Barak seems to be trying to get the police to re-launch a
criminal investigation into the affair, which it closed after discovering that
Harpaz had forged the document. The police refrained from investigating the
issue in depth – for example, trying to answer the question of who Harpaz was
working for, and why he wrote the paper to begin with.
report does not appear to provide clear answers, but does raise serious
questions regarding Harpaz’s relationship with Ashkenazi – and particularly his
wife Ronit. It appears that Harpaz, as well as some other officers close to the
former chief of staff, were asked to gather information on Barak, his wife and
some of his close associates.
Looking back, some officials in the defense
establishment claim that the Barak-Ashkenazi relationship was a recipe for
disaster from the beginning. Barak, a former chief of staff himself,
entered the Defense Ministry in June 2007, about four months after Ashkenazi
took office under then-defense minister Amir Peretz.
to the IDF came in the wake of the failures of the Second Lebanon War. His
nononsense approach, image as a rugged field commander and strict ban on
interviews gained him immediate public fame. When Barak took office, Ashkenazi
was already rated one of the most-popular chiefs of staff of all
Their relationship quickly turned sour.
Legally, the IDF is
subordinate to the government and the defense minister is something of a
coordinator between the two, which means that Barak needs to approve certain
high-level appointments made by the chief of staff, as well as any diplomatic
meetings the chief of staff holds with foreign-government
“When two powerful people are in these positions, there is
always going to be a built-in tension,” one official explained.
years ago, for example, Omar Suleiman, then the Egyptian intelligence chief,
Ashkenazi wanted to sit down with him for a meeting but
Barak refused to approve the request.
Ashkenazi saw this, as well as
other similar rejections, as Barak’s way of trying to sidestep his authority and
undermine him as chief of staff. Barak, on the other hand, viewed Ashkenazi’s
desire to meet with government officials as a way to undermine his position as
defense minister and to make him irrelevant.
When Operation Cast Lead
came in December 2008, Ashkenazi and Barak again clashed over the way the
operation should be conducted, how extensive it needed to be and how it should
end. When Ashkenazi received the credit for the operation, it only added to
Ultimately though, the report has to be looked at in
a strategic and political context.
On the one hand, it should concern
Israelis that scandals like these are occurring in the two most sensitive
offices in the Israeli government – the Defense Ministry and the Prime
Minister’s Office, which was recently rocked by the Natan Eshel
On the other hand, some might say that the problem was not with
Ashkenazi or Barak per se, but rather with the way the political-military system
works in Israel. The Winograd Committee, which probed the Second Lebanon War,
picked up on this point in its report and recommended that the National Security
Council be given more authority and sharper teeth. This has yet to
In the meantime, Barak will have his own personal challenge of
remaining in political office. His new party Independence is not expected to
make it into the Knesset in the next elections, which means he will need to
depend on the good grace of Netanyahu to appoint him from the outside.
portraying himself as the victim of an attempted coup led by Ashkenazi, Barak is
also looking to gain points within the public.
Lacking clear criminal
allegations however, the report will ultimately blow over. Barak does not enjoy
high public approval ratings like Ashkenazi, and in two years, when the ex-IDF
chief’s cooling-off period ends, it is questionable if anyone will even remember
the Harpaz Affair?
If Dan Halutz, the chief of staff during the Second Lebanon
War, is running for a spot on the Kadima Party’s list, Ashkenazi might
ultimately be thinking that no matter how bad the comptroller’s report is, there
is nothing stopping him from doing the same.