Harpaz’s lessons

If it hasn’t already, our defense establishment needs to put its house in order, for Israel’s sake.

barak ashkenazi 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
barak ashkenazi 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Forging documents, conspiracy theories and subterfuge were all there. But above all else, the state comptroller’s investigation of the so-called Harpaz Report is a depressing revelation of the staggering amounts of time, energy and resources devoted to petty feuds and interpersonal intrigues by the highest ranks of the IDF and the Defense Ministry.
And this bitter enmity and ruthless infighting were played out at a time when Israel faced pressing security threats from Iran, Hamas-controlled Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
A product of 26 months of investigations, the 294-page State Comptroller’s Report is a commendably indepth account of the problematic and dysfunctional relations between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi between 2009 and 2011. It sheds light on the forgery of a document by Lt.-Col. (res.) Boaz Harpaz, a loyalist to Ashkenazi, and the poisonous environment in which the forgery took place.
It describes the animosity between Barak and Ashkenazi and the manner in which the infighting between the two and those loyal to them led to delays in central appointments of about 150 IDF officers, the leaking of classified information and how all this might have compromised Israel’s security.
The State Comptroller’s Report is, in short, a highly-detailed description of what happened behind the scenes of the military establishment where the most important security decisions are made, and the picture painted by the report is not pretty.
True, the controversy surrounding the Harpaz Report might or might not be comparable in its severity to past scandals such as the battle between David Ben-Gurion and Yisrael Galili over the appointment of Palmach commander Yitzhak Sadeh on the eve of the War of Independence, which might have led to the surrender of Nitzanim to the Egyptians; the 1954 Lavon Affair, which led to enormous damage to our relations with Britain and the US; conflicts between then-defense minister Moshe Dayan and the ninth chief of staff David “Dado” Elazar during and after the Yom Kippur War.
Still, now that the comptroller’s report has dealt so well with the question of what happened, we must now deal with the ramifications. We must now ask ourselves a deeper question: How could such a thing have happened? How is it that two of the highest ranking figures in our security community and their close aides were embroiled in such base infighting? More general conclusions regarding the ethical standards of our leaders need to be reached. Perhaps a panel of inquiry needs to be appointed by the government.
Since the problematic relations between the Defense Ministry and the Chief of Staff’s Office are at the heart of the controversy, guidelines governing the relations between these two offices and their respective roles need to be drafted.
Perhaps the most problematic aspect of the scandal, however, is the adverse effect it will have on the level of trust we place in the IDF. As Prof. Asa Kasher, author of the IDF’s code of ethics pointed out on his Facebook page, IDF soldiers are liable to be disenchanted with the hypocrisy of a situation in which the newly drafted private is expected to abide by the IDF’s code of ethics while the army’s upper echelon completely ignores it. And how can mothers and fathers not have reservations about placing the lives of their sons and daughters in the hands of the IDF’s command?
It is therefore essential for the sake of the IDF that tangible steps be taken to restore the army’s tarnished image. Perhaps, as Kasher suggested, an IDF general should be appointed whose sole responsibility is to ensure the enforcement of the code of ethics. Perhaps the government should appoint a new panel of inquiry to make recommendations based on the lessons learned from the Harpaz Affair.
Whatever steps are ultimately taken after this week’s State Comptroller’s Report, the public must be assured that the IDF and Defense Ministry are not the same IDF and Defense Ministry described in the report.
If it hasn’t already, our defense establishment needs to put its house in order, for Israel’s sake.