Report charts feud between Barak and Ashkenazi

Relations between former chief of staff and defense minister became dysfunctional to a worrying degree, State Comptroller writes.

Workers at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv 370 (R) (photo credit: Pool / Reuters)
Workers at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv 370 (R)
(photo credit: Pool / Reuters)
The State Comptroller’s Report released on Sunday charts the course of an ever-escalating feud between the two men in the most senior positions tasked with managing Israel’s national security, former IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Relations between their two bureaus became dysfunctional to a worrying degree, the report found.
The first known clash between them broke out over the issue of senior IDF appointments.
Barak believes that despite traditional protocol, a defense minister should be able to suggest his own candidates for senior IDF positions, such as the next chief of staff, and not just approve or veto the chief of staff’s candidates, the report said.
On the other hand, Ashkenazi believed that the current protocol should be preserved, and that the chief of staff should retain the exclusive authority to name candidates.
The two men clashed over who should replace the deputy of chief of staff, Maj.-Gen. Dan Harel, in 2009. Barak wanted OC Southern Command Maj.- Gen. Yoav Galant for the job, while Ashkenazi wanted OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot.
Eventually, they decided to appoint then-military attaché in the United States Benny Gantz to the position, and Barak kept Galant as OC Southern Command, earmarking him as potential chief of staff.
Ashkenazi later told the state comptroller that Barak sought to carry out a range of senior appointments in the IDF’s General Staff.
Ashkenazi said Barak sabotaged all of his proposed appointments, not just that of the deputy chief of staff, and he asked Barak to help move the process forward.
“Nothing happened. [I received] no answer. Tell me, what is a chief of staff, who wants to carry out senior appointments, [which are] supervised, according to the criteria, to do in such a situation?... I restrained myself.”
The state comptroller identified this clash as the beginning of a serious deterioration in relations between Ashkenazi and Barak.
Disagreements continued over the question of who should be the next coordinator of government activities in the territories. The argument resulted in a paralysis of the appointment process, and no replacement was made for a year. The role was temporarily filled by the Defense Ministry’s head of political-military affairs, Maj.-Gen. Amos Gilad, who continued to fill his original position as well, placing him under a very heavy workload.
The state comptroller said the paralysis was out of line and created an unreasonable situation.
The feud escalated yet further when Ashkenazi refused to promote a senior officer to the rank of major-general for the last few months of his service, as Barak requested, and to appoint him coordinator of government activities in the territories for a month. Ashkenazi called the appointment “fictitious.”
Barak defended the proposed appointment, saying that “in every government system... in the IDF... and in the State Comptroller’s Office, it is acceptable to sometimes present a person with a retirement rank,” adding that such a promise had been made to the officer.
The state comptroller said that the way in which Barak appointed the officer, and his short tenure, was inappropriate.
The Comptroller’s Report said the disputes described above illustrate the “urgent need to reach an arrangement regarding the defense minister’s involvement in certain appointments.”
Barak responded by saying that he plans to formulate regulations together with the current chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Gantz, on the thorny issue of appointments.
It took a further point of contention to make the feud public.
This happened when Barak released a blistering denial of a Channel 1 report suggesting that Ashkenazi would have his term as chief of staff extended by one year, following the completion of his four-year term.
The state comptroller said that Barak told his spokesman to phone journalists and deny the report, and to attribute it to the IDF spokesman at the time, Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu. The denial also included the charge that the report cheapened the institution of chief of staff.
Benayahu soon responded to Barak’s message, denying any link to the Channel 1 report and refusing “to be dragged into personal, baseless slander.”
Looking back on the exchange, the state comptroller said, “This incident triggered the public confrontation between Defense Minister Barak and former Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi and their aides.”
The report cited Ashkenazi’s aide Col. Erez Viner as saying that the incident marked the start of the “open war.”
Benayahu later told the comptroller that Barak’s attack on him was “unprecedented,” and caused him “much humiliation.”
Barak responded by saying that the report required a reply, as it was broadcast during a primetime news program, and, left unanswered, would turn into an accepted fact.
The state comptroller said Barak’s response was a catalyst for increasing tensions between the defense minister and the chief of staff, adding that “this storm could have been prevented had Barak refrained...
from wrongly accusing a senior IDF officer, the then-IDF spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Benayahu.”
Although relations between the two men were already very bad, things took a turn for the worse once again after Barak publicly announced that Ashkenazi’s term would not extended, a decision Ashkenazi told him was incomprehensible to him, as he “did not request a fifth year.”
While the state comptroller said that Barak did not violate protocol in making the announcement, he did question the need to make it 10 months before the end of Ashkenazi’s tenure. This served to “increase tensions,” the report said.
In another section, the document charges Barak with failing to approve part of a set of instructions designed for the IDF’s senior command, as an attempt to pressure the chief of staff to make adjustments to the instructions.
“The State Comptroller’s Office notes that this is not a proper step... A lack of approval of the instructions... [which are] important and deal with the designation and tasks of a number of branches in the General Staff, can disrupt the intactness of IDF work. Minister Barak must act to ensure that the instructions... are approved as soon as possible,” the report said.
The relationship between the two men forms an issue that has “most problematic and disturbing aspects,” the report said.
While a certain built-in tension between a defense minister and a chief of staff is natural, the bad working relations between the two figures – who carry the security of the country on their shoulders – created a worrying situation, to the extent that it had the potential to undermine the public’s faith in the security forces and its heads, the state comptroller said. The same deterioration was experienced by the two men’s staff toward one another.
Both Ashkenazi and Barak should have been aware of the damage being caused, and should have worked to end to the confrontation, to restore communications between their bureaus, which is vital to the function of the security forces, the report said.
The state comptroller added that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should have tried to resolve the feud by spring 2010.
Nevertheless, the comptroller said, the poor state of relations cannot serve as a justification for the act of assembling information on Barak and his bureau, which the comptroller said was carried out by Ashkenazi’s aide Col. Erez Viner, with the knowledge of Ashkenazi.
Nor could it justify the conduct of Ashkenazi and his aide regarding the Harpaz document, the comptroller said.
“The fact that flaws were found in Barak’s conduct toward the chief of staff of the time, as detailed above, does not provide any sort of justification for the conduct of the military echelon toward the elected government echelon,” the report said.
Neither side acted on the basis of a plan to harm the other, despite beliefs held by both camps to the contrary, the comptroller said.
Barak did not formulate a plan to harm Ashkenazi or to force him to finish his term early and “bruised,” as Ashkenazi had charged, and Ashkenazi did not produce any plan to continue to serve illegally into a fifth year, or carry out a “putsch” against Galant, as Barak claimed, the report concluded.
The mutual accusations of premeditated steps are the result of partial information, rumors and evaluations, not solid facts, the report said.