(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
If an officer under his command had had a pistol stolen from his care, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi would doubtless have had the officer court-martialed for neglecting a firearm. However, in a case whose embarrassing details emerged this week, the officer whose gun was recently purloined, straight out of the glass cabinet in which it was kept (unlocked), was none other than Ashkenazi himself.
Immune from a severe reprimand or any legal consequences, Ashkenazi now needs to wipe the egg off his face and make sure the necessary lessons are learned.
The pistol is a collector's Colt given Ashkenazi by an American colleague. The Military Police are still looking for it.
The gun was part of the loot heisted by a soldier on sentry duty at the IDF's headquarters in Tel Aviv - the Kirya - where Ashkenazi's bureau is located. The guard, despite an extensive criminal record, was unvetted and even equipped with a pass-key that allowed him into Ashkenazi's office.
He photographed the IDF commander's credit card details and passed them on to a Sharon-area Arab supermarket employee. The resultant NIS 2,000 spending spree at Ashkenazi's expense brought tickets for comic Shalom Assayag's stand-up act, alcohol, pizza and flowers.
It later transpired that the supermarket worker carried on a lucrative side-trade in stolen weapons. The conscript who collaborated with him had previously put two IDF M-16 rifles up for sale.
Nobody would have been any the wiser were it not for the supermarket manager, who spotted suspicious charges. The nation's No. 1 soldier detected nothing.
The Colt was initially what the reprobate sentry was after. When the Arab buyer objected to the antiquated model, he forced his accomplice, who apparently owed him money, to bring him "something better by way of compensation." That was when the credit card details were offered.
IDF regulations regarding weapons are stringent, even if a particular weapon isn't in workable condition. Gun repairs are hardly rocket science. At the very least, Ashkenazi was negligent with a pistol in his possession. Besides the fact that the chief of the General Staff is expected to serve as an example to lower ranks, neglecting a weapon is also an offense in the civilian legal code.
This isn't the Kirya's first high-profile security breach. Last a year a soldier sold passes to the military compound. And an internal check concluded that a car-bomb could be easily smuggled into what should be Israel's securest of inner sanctums.
Unauthorized personnel roaming IDF installations are hardly rare. The guard in question was allowed to prepare coffee in Ashkenazi's secretary's kitchenette.
If this lax approach to security prevails in Ashkenazi's own domain, it must be assumed to be rife throughout the IDF.
SINCE ASHKENAZI himself is unlikely to be court-martialed, he should at least squeeze some benefit out of his humiliation and take the strongest disciplinary steps against those officers charged with securing his bureau.
More sophisticated or sinister miscreants could have wrought harm that boggles the mind, including wiretapping the most sensitive desk in the country, placing lethal contaminants at the premises or booby-trapping it.
The generalized assurance that "security has been tightened up" is patently insufficient and is certainly no guarantee that something that could have caused untold damage will not be repeated in this particular headquarters or in others.
Ashkenazi himself must make sure that the entire security complex around him and around other officers is critically examined and its operational concepts shaken to the core. He should commission an independent professional probe and not make do with the IDF investigating itself and covering up its own blunders.
That a conscript with a long rap sheet and ongoing criminal associations could be entrusted to guard the IDF nerve center, or that any sentry could walk into areas that should be strictly off-limits, point to security as porous as a sieve.
This case ended up as a farcical disgrace, but it could potentially have exacted a much steeper price - in human lives and the safety of all Israelis.
If a rigorous revamp of every detail of the system's functioning isn't initiated by Ashkenazi, then his fellow general staffers must demand it.
The buck must stop somewhere.
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