You have heard of of the Lyndon Johnson-Robert Kennedy feud, and Watergate. Those cases were separate, involving two clusters of individuals in different political parties, with four years intervening between the end of one and the onset of the second, and another two years until Watergate produced the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Israel is going through something that combines features of Johnson-Kennedy and Watergate with one cluster of overlapping personalities. Insofar as it involves the peak of the security hierarchy, key details are not available to the public. The central figures and labels employed by the media have changed over the two years it has been in the headlines.
For anything better, we can call it the Galant-Harpaz-Ashkenazi-
Weiner-Barak-Lindenstrauss-Weinstein affair, and tell what can be garnered from journalists forbidden to reveal everything they know.
In the background was some kind of animosity between Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, Chief of the IDF General Staff and his nominal superior, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, himself a former Lt.Gen and head of the IDF General Staff. Ashkenazi was said to want an additional year added on to his three year term of office, conventionally given to IDF heads, while Barak, with the authority to decide on such things, wanted someone else.
Barak has long been know for his brilliance, an overdeveloped ego, and problems in working with others. Ashkenazi''s reputation as an honest "soldier''s soldier" is now a subject of dispute.
In August, 2010 one of Israel''s television channels broke the news of a document circulating among senior officers of the IDF, said to be part of an organized effort to affect the selection of the next Chief of the General Staff. That came to be known as the Galant document. The public has never seen the whole thing, but it was originally said to have as its goal the selection of General Yoav Galant, and later said to be a cabal against Galant''s appointment.
The message provided in the media was that ranking officers were engaging in a illegitimate effort to organize in behalf of one of them, and/or against others, in order to influence a decision that should be in the hands of the IDF''s political superiors. Formally, senior positions in the IDF are nominated by the Defense Minister, after consultations with military personnel, and approved by the Government.
As the story developed, Boaz Harpaz was said to be the author of the document. Harpaz had reached the rank of Lt Col in the IDF, but had personal contacts throughout the higher reaches of the IDF that seemed peculiar for his rank at the lower end of the IDF''s upper echelon. Hapaz was arrested and investigated, the document was said to be a forgery, Ashkenazi was involved due to assertions that he knew of its existence and kept a copy in his office for some time without reporting to authorities what seemed to be an illegitimate conspiracy among senior officers.
General Galant received the Defense Minister''s nomination as Ashkenazi''s successor, and his appointment was approved by the Government. However, a simmering issue of Galant''s property dealings concerned with his personal home produced a damning decision by the Attorney General, and the Government was forced to reverse its decision. It did not help Galant that Ha''aretz published a photo of his home on its front page, showing a structure called a palace, beyond the dreams of the average Israeli and not in keeping with the modest profile expected of senior military personnel.
Occasional news of developments, still without details of the actual letter, appeared over the course of the next two years. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss weighed in with his brief for dealing with issues of moral integrity and his sense of what was newsworthy, and proceeded to investigate, as typical of his office, behind closed doors.
Pressure on Lindenstrauss and the rest of us mounted with the impending end of his term as State Comptroller, and his concern to finish with this and another high profile investigation having the potential to roll some political heads, i.e., the 2010 forest fire on the Carmel that claimed 44 lives.
Lindenstrauss informed Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein that the Galant case deserved police attention due to the likelihood of someone in authority violating criminal laws. Eventually that produced a dust-up between Weinstein and Lindenstrauss with a headline "Attorney General blasts comptroller over ‘Harpaz affair’ claims: In furious letter, Yehuda Weinstein charges that Micha Lindenstrauss never mentioned criminal investigation."
The article began with
"Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has gone on the offensive against outgoing State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, charging that recent statements regarding the “Harpaz Affair” were not true, and that Lindenstrauss was misleading the public in claiming to have called for a more in-depth criminal investigation. . . .In early May, Haaretz reported that Lindenstrauss requested that Weinstein reopen the investigation upon receipt of new information that he claimed strengthened the suspicions he had presented in his March draft report on the affair. Lindenstrauss has recently been quoted by Israeli media on several occasions calling for a wider criminal investigation into the case.Then, on May 14, Weinstein sent a letter to Lindenstrauss, which those who have seen are calling the “harshest” letter ever written from an attorney general to a state comptroller. Weinstein wrote that, “throughout the entire investigation, from its beginning to its end, through all the final communications between me and you, between my staff and the staff of your office, at no time was there any mention of the criminal aspects of this case — neither explicitly nor implicitly, not in writing and not by word of mouth.”
No less caustic is the flare up of enmity between the still-sitting Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the now retired Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. One headline is that "Harpaz says Gabi Ashkenazi tasked him to dig for dirt on Defense Minister Barak: Boaz Harpaz''s statement was primary reason for comptroller''s recommendation to reopen criminal investigation into so-called Harpaz affair." Another headline reports "Barak accuses former IDF chief Ashkenazi of bribery, conspiracy." That story goes on to the accusation that Ashkenazi and his aide, Colonel Erez Weiner, were the heads of a pyramid that not only conspired to prevent the appointment of Yoav Galant, but also were involved in taking bribes to influence high appointments in the IDF.
Major figures are accusing one another of lying, with some of them claiming to have been cleared by lie detector examinations while their adversaries have avoided being probed sufficiently by the police or by a lie detector. Col Weiner went to court in order to get the State Comptroller to release documents involved in what might become a report that damages him personally.
The story continues, typically with reports about who has said what about who in the last 24 hours, without supplying a synopsis of the larger picture and how the latest details fit into it. It is hard to put the details into a larger context, partly because of the media''s focus on the latest revelations about personalities, and partly because of the secrecy imposed on key details.
It resembles the Lyndon-Bobby feud insofar as there are intense rivalries fueled by the kinds of super egos required to reach the top of national politics and the military. As in that feud, as well, in this case there is no indication that the principals were unable to work with one another despite their personal animosity.
It resembles Watergate insofar as the follow up has proved to be more involved and spicier than the initial incident. No American should have been surprised that political operatives engage in dirty tricks, including a break-in and thievery of campaign plans. No Israeli should be surprised that professionals at the peak of the military or other government units seek to influence senior appointments.
Arguably it was the cover-up of Watergate that brought down Richard Nixon. Claims of the Chief of the General Staff accepting bribes to affect military appointments represent a major departure from the original claims of conniving about an appointment, and have the capacity to shake one of the foundations of the Israeli regime.
My own hero in this is the late political scientist Harold Lasswell. His Psychopathology and Politics (1930) tells us what to expect about people who reach high position, and his Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (1935) reminds us that personality differences at the pinnacle of government are less important than outcomes.
Reaching the top seems to require ambition and ego of abnormal proportion, but also the capacity to keep those inner drives in check in order to do what is necessary to function in high positions. Americans should have recognized that in the cases of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and Richard Nixon, while Israelis are seeing something similar in the cases of Gabi Ashkenazi, Ehud Barak, Yoav Galant, Micha Lindenstrauss, Yehuda Weinstein, and assorted others.