Report on Scandal Slams IDF, Defense Ministry Over Backbiting
An investigation by the State Comptroller that has been ongoing for over two years on the poor relations between former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and members of the staff of outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak concluded that the two sides exhibited petty behavior that could potentially have damaged the state. Even worse, the report said, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was aware of the spat, but did little to nothing to intervene. The "intrigue" in the tale of the feud between Ashkenazi and Barak, and the fact that it could go on so long without interference, is a red warning light for the way Israel's defense establishment operates, the report said.
The investigation into what is known as the “Harpaz Affair” -- named for Boaz Harpaz, a former IDF officer who was a close friend and confidante to Ashkenazi -- is a “grave matter,” State Comptroller Yosef Shapira wrote. The poor relations between Ashkenazi and Barak interfered with the proper running of the army; for example, said Shapira, Barak refused to authorize more than half of Ashkenazi's officer appointments, apparently because of the feud. Harpaz, the report found, capitalized on and even inadvertently encouraged the deterioration of the relationship between Ashkenazi and Barak.
Among the reasons for the enmity between Ashkenazi and Barak was the pair's inability to agree on numerous appointments, with both sides besmirching the other in the press, through “leaked sources.” Among those appointments was that of the IDF Chief of Staff who followed Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi sided with the current Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, while Barak fought for Yoav Galant, who was eventually disqualified. The report criticizes the media for its fascination with the ongoing spat between the two, which, the report said, was unworthy of serious journalists.
Singled out for sharp criticism is Barak aide Col. Erez Wiener, a top aide to Ashkenazi, who was in close contact with Harpaz, especially regarding a document that Harpaz had produced, claiming that it was confidential information he had received from Barak's office. The document purported to show how Barak planned to damage Ashkenazi's career, and deny him a fifth year as IDF Chief of Staff. With that, the report said that neither Ashkenazi nor Wiener had leaked the document that set off the investigation.
Weiner, for his part, encouraged Harpaz to delve into the Defense Ministry and try to find “dirt” on Barak. In one instance, for example, Wiener asked Harpaz to find out if members of a delegation sent by Barak to the U.S. were flying business class, after the Defense Ministry refused to allow Ashkenazi's people to fly in business class. Harpaz, an IDF officer who had resigned, was a civilian who apparently had extensive access to personnel, offices, and information in the Defense Ministry. The report advises a thorough review of who is permitted access to what information in the IDF and the Defense Ministry.
Although, the report said, Ashkenazi was to some extent aware of Harpaz's role, Weiner made sure to keep his boss from direct involvement in any of the events or discussions. The report recommends that the IDF conduct a thorough investigation into Wiener's behavior in the case.
The report has been transferred to IDF attorneys and to the State Prosecutor, who has said that he may issue indictments, depending on the contents of the report.