(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On the wall of the General Staff conference room, adjacent to the office of IDF
chief Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on the 14th floor of the Kirya military
headquarters in Tel Aviv, hangs one of David Ben-Gurion’s famous
“Every Jewish mother should know that she has placed her son in
the hands of worthy commanders,” Israel’s first prime minister is quoted as
Many Israelis are likely wondering whether this still holds true,
and whether the statement can be applied to the current cadre of senior officers
whose names have been linked, in one way or another, to the Galant Document
affair that has rocked the army.
The revelation on Tuesday that Ashkenazi
was questioned as part of the investigation and that he had been in possession
of a copy of the document for three weeks is nothing short of earth-shattering
for the IDF. If he knew about the document, why didn’t he come forward
immediately once the police investigation began? Also, why didn’t he summon OC
Southern Command Maj.-Gen.Yoav Galant and confront him?
This leaves open
the possibility that after obtaining the document, Ashkenazi saw an opportunity
to prevent Galant, with whom he has not gotten along since before Operation Cast
Lead in late 2008, from being appointed his successor. This theory is, of
course, only realistic if Ashkenazi thought the document was genuine. If so, it
is possible that even if he had not been involved in writing it, he had ulterior
motives before Channel 2’s August 6 exposé.
There is no minimizing the
significance and severity of the affair. The army chief has been questioned by
police, along with other members of the General Staff. While the country has
seen prime ministers, presidents and cabinet ministers march into the
interrogation room and even the courtroom, the IDF has usually been above it
all, held on something of a pedestal.
This, of course, has to do with the
Israeli ethos and the fact that the military is considered sacred, sometimes
even immune to criticism.
For Ashkenazi, this is without a doubt a
troubling development, and not the way he expected to finish up his four years
as the IDF’s top soldier. Brought back from civilian life following the Second
Lebanon War to lead a distressed military back to its former glory, he would
like people to believe he succeeded in doing so, as proven by the success of
Operation Cast Lead and the relative quiet that still prevails around the Gaza
This will no longer be the case. Ashkenazi will now be remembered
as the chief of staff who was questioned by police as part of a criminal
investigation. He will be remembered not as the officer who rehabilitated the
IDF from its post-Lebanon War trauma, but as the chief of staff who lost control
of his generals and repeatedly clashed with his defense minister, to the point
that even his spokesman, Brig.-Gen.
Avi Benayahu, openly admits there is
tension between Ehud Barak and Ashkenazi.
This will have a practical
effect on the IDF. While the military can pride itself on raising a tremendous
generation of mid-level and senior officers who currently fill the posts of
company, battalion and brigade commander, corruption at the top could trickle
down. Also, the IDF only recently succeeded in restoring high motivation among
soldiers to become officers. These soldiers will now have to ask themselves if
this is the IDF they will want to serve.