Former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res) Gabi Ashkenazi.
(photo credit: ELI MANDELBAUM)
Former IDF chief-of-staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi and his wife, Ronit, on Sunday were questioned by police for the second time in the Harpaz Affair, following the first day of questioning on Thursday.
Ashkenazi’s spokesman released a short statement after the first day of questioning indicating that he would “fully cooperate” with the “hope of revealing the full truth” regarding the affair.
The police have said Gabi Ashkenazi is under suspicion of breach of public trust, obstruction of justice and giving classified information to unauthorized persons, and that the other suspect (believed to be Ronit, though the police would not officially confirm this, since she is not a public figure) is suspected of obstruction of justice.
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 on, 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).
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 30 total hours over three days last week.
Media speculation has indicated that Ronit might have been in direct contact with Harpaz on her husband’s behalf, 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, Ashkenazi’s former chief-of-staff, Col. (res.) Erez Winner, was arrested and ordered to be kept in custody for a number of days for his alleged role.