Former IDF chief Ashkenazi questioned by police on battles with ex-defense minister Barak

Ashkenazi and his wife Ronit questioned for alleged involvement in Harpaz Affair amid speculation he may have spied on Barak.

June 12, 2014 11:44
3 minute read.
Gabi Ashkenazi

Former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res) Gabi Ashkenazi. (photo credit: ELI MANDELBAUM)

Completing the circle of former IDF high-command figures being questioned in the Harpaz Affair, former IDF chief-of-staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi and his wife, Ronit, were probed by police on Thursday.

Ashkenazi’s spokesman released a short statement indicating that he would “fully cooperate” with the “hope of revealing the full truth” regarding the affair.

The ex-chief-of-staff’s wife, Ronit, did not officially confirm her being questioned.

The exact dimensions of what Ashkenazi is being questioned on and what, if any, indictment might follow, are still unclear, with rampant media speculation on the issue.

In their worst-case scenario, Ashkenazi, his wife and some of his former colleagues could be interrogated for being connected to allegations of spying on former defense minister Ehud Barak and other officials associated with him in an ongoing struggle between the two, as well as for being connected to the Harpaz document and to attempts to obstruct its investigation.

They could also be interrogated for improperly declassifying information in the ongoing infighting with Barak.

The Harpaz Affair refers to an alleged 2010 plot by Lt.-Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz, and possibly others, to illegally undermine then-defense minister Barak’s choice to succeed Ashkenazi as IDF chief. The purported scheme appeared to be part of a more general battle between Barak and Ashkenazi involving both sides allegedly spying and spreading misinformation about the other.

The disagreements between the sides were not only personal, but touched upon when and if Israel should strike Iran’s nuclear facilities as well as what kinds of officers should run the IDF’s high command.

A who’s who of Israel’s top reporters on military issues have been questioned by police relating to the allegations of improperly declassifying information (though formally the IDF chief and the head spokesman are the top authorized personnel for deciding classification issues).

Ashkenazi’s camp accused Barak and his cadre of destroying evidence of their improper or criminal actions, including spying on his camp as well as intentionally blocking his appointments to the high command to a point where the IDF as an institution was suffering from missing officials in key positions.

Some of the allegations around Ashkenazi surround the fact that he possessed a copy of the Harpaz document (which was allegedly being used by Harpaz to discredit Barak’s choice of Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant), but waited two days, from August 8-10, 2010, to inform the police, after they announced an investigation into the document.

The circumstances of his waiting are still unclear, including whether then-IDF legal division head Maj.-Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit knew about and temporarily possessed the document, and if he did, whether his actions were problematic or fully appropriate in his role as the army’s top lawyer.

Mandelblit himself, currently the prime minister’s cabinet secretary, was questioned for around 20 total hours over two consecutive days earlier this week.

Media speculation has indicated that Ronit might have been in direct contact with Harpaz on her husband’s behalf, but in order to shield him from direct contact and knowledge of Harpaz’s actions.

When Mandelbit was still running the IDF legal division, he investigated the Harpaz Affair, and found there was no evidence that anyone besides Harpaz himself was involved.

But Mandelblit’s successor, Maj.-Gen. Danny Efroni, pressed Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to order a wider investigation and Weinstein acquiesced in August 2013.

In March, former IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avi Benayahu and Ashkenazi’s former chief-of-staff Col. (res,) Erez Winner were arrested and ordered to be kept in custody for a number of days for their alleged role.

Both stand accused of destroying documents, obstruction of justice as well as holding and disseminating classified documents without approval.

Harpaz himself was arrested and released in March. In contrast, Mandelblit was not arrested or kept in custody.

The investigation’s conclusion could determine Ashkenazi’s political future as a potential challenger for prime minister.

Police have in the past highlighted the complexity of the investigation, code-named “404.” They said so far they’ve questioned over 400 people and there are more than 1,000 recordings included in the investigative material.

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