Analysis: Bruised, but hardly defeated

Harpaz, Viner may be given prison time; Ashkenazi, Barak, aides will likely face political backlash.

Ashkenazi and Barak farewell 311 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Ashkenazi and Barak farewell 311
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Before it is laid to rest, the Harpaz Document will have taken its pound of flesh, and some top officials may even go to jail, but at the highest levels, the damage is likely to be only political, if the State Comptroller’s Report is any indication.
In the end, the bombshell called the Harpaz Document, which once threatened to end the careers of Israel’s top security leaders, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, will leave them bruised, but not defeated.
Ashkenazi was thought to be the more vulnerable of the two initially, since if there was a fight between them, one could argue that Ashkenazi should have deferred to Barak as his civilian superior.
In that vein, the report’s allegations against Ashkenazi, that he had “partial knowledge” that his top aid Col. Erez Viner was using Lt.-Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz to spy on Barak, and that he waited too long to turn over the Harpaz Document to investigators, are more concrete.
However, when looking at the full picture of open war between the two sides described in the report, it is apparent that Barak’s aides did their share of spying on IDF spokesman and close Ashkenazi ally Avi Benayahu, that they intentionally politically ambushed Ashkenazi in an unprecedented manner and interfered in the selection process of Ashkenazi’s successor, among other improprieties.
Given that record, it will be hard to convince Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein to prosecute Ashkenazi for employing what he viewed as minimal self-defense to preserve the professional independence of the IDF.
Also, “partial knowledge” is a loser in criminal cases, where intent needs to be clear, not hazy.
Most importantly, in regard to the Harpaz Document itself, the main source of criminal allegations, Ashkenazi clearly and repeatedly rejected using it for his own gain.
Last month, Weinstein only barely indicted Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman for not revealing for years that a loyalist of his acted illegally on his behalf during an ongoing criminal investigation. Here, Ashkenazi revealed his copy of the Harpaz Document within days of the investigation beginning and it is not clear that it would have been uncovered otherwise.
Also, whereas Liberman failed to reveal facts that could hurt him, Ashkenazi merely failed to reveal facts that he thought were true and might have hurt Barak, making it hard to accuse him of trying to criminally take down Barak. Even a charge of breach of trust could be a stretch.
It is also hard to see any criminal allegations being made against Barak or his aides. The report describes Barak’s actions as highly problematic professionally and ethically, and notes that his aides, Yoni Koren and others, did collect information about Benayahu.
But there were no forged documents and no systematic spying initiatives. And while Barak’s seeming attack on the office of chief of staff might have been grounds for his dismissal, he was Ashkenazi’s superior, and it is hard to legally argue that any actions he took went beyond ethical violations.
For Barak, the only question the report raises is if the blows to his image will reduce his chances of being asked to return as defense minister in the next Knesset.
In addition, it has been clear since May last year that former state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has been pushing Weinstein to file criminal indictments, but that the attorney- general held off firmly. At this point it is clear that Weinstein will only indict high-level officials if he is convinced he will win.
The big question now appears to be who will file the likely charges against Viner for his role in the affair. Military Advocate-General Dan Efroni has said he will investigate the reports of Viner directing Harpaz to spy on Barak if Weinstein does not.
The easiest question to answer is about Harpaz. He admitted in most of his contradictory statements to forging the document and to spying on Barak, and he evidently relished going beyond even the wildest dreams of Viner and Ashkenazi in plotting against Barak.
The only real question with him is will he go to jail, and for how long?