Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s decision to close the so-called Harpaz Affair case against cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit could bear heavily on whether Mandelblit replaces him as the next attorney-general, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is thought to prefer.
The Harpaz Affair refers to a grand battle between former defense minister Ehud Barak and former IDF chief of staff Lt.- Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi over efforts by Lt.-Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz to discredit Barak’s initial pick to succeed Ashkenazi.
The decision could also impact on whether Ashkenazi returns as one of the most formidable figures in politics – possibly even a future prime minister.
Weinstein did not say whether he was closing the case because Mandelblit was wrongly accused or because the evidence was insufficient – often a paraphrase for “we know you’re guilty, but we don’t have enough proof to win in court.”
Weinstein’s tone leaned more toward criticizing Mandelblit for hesitating to disclose to Weinstein that Ashkenazi had a copy of an incriminating Harpaz document, which started the largest criminal investigation of IDF high command figures in the state’s history.
But at the same time, the decision praised Mandelblit for “doing the right thing” by telling Ashkenazi to turn over the document, credits Mandelblit with making that decision “in a short time period,” and expresses understanding of his dilemma in distinguishing his legal duties to Ashkenazi versus to the state.
Weinstein’s painstaking chronological analysis shows that Mandelblit had only half a day during which he delayed telling the attorney-general about the document, and that Mandelblit had said he had found out about the document hours later than he did.
In Mandelblit’s favor, he and his supporters have argued that questioning him for more than 40 hours and listening in on his private conversations with Ashkenazi and Ashkenazi’s chief of staff, Col. (res.) Erez Viner, simply to close the case was a waste of state resources and violated Ashekenazi’s attorney-client privilege with Mandelblit.
Weinstein fiercely rejected this argument, citing a 1994 court decision that the IDF chief of staff and the IDF’s top lawyer do not have any privilege of a typical attorney-client relationship.
Rather, the court decision said that the IDF chief-of-staff and its top lawyer head two organs of the military, which work alongside each other for the state’s benefit.
These issues, more than anything else, may determine Mandelblit’s and Ashkenazi’s futures.
Is the main fact to take away from the story that Mandelblit delayed being forthcoming to Weinstein about the document, while he knew that the police were searching furiously for a copy of the document – even if the delay was only half a day? Or is it that, in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, Mandelblit had the courage, after less than 24 hours of consideration, essentially to order his commanding officer to turn over a document that could endanger his boss’s future and which otherwise might not have been discovered? It may come down to how badly Netanyahu wants Mandelblit in Weinstein’s job. If the prime minister wants it enough, Weinstein’s ambiguity has definitely left the door open and Mandelblit has many supporters. All of this can only positively impact Ashkenazi’s future.
Weinstein’s analysis firmly rejects the police view of the case, and indirectly that of IDF legal division head Maj.-Gen.
When all is added up, Weinstein, who harshly rejected recent reports that he was close to indicting Ashkenazi, may decide that Ashkenazi’s eventually doing the right thing also in a relatively short period of time makes him indictment-proof.