Two former senior IDF officers were held by police for questioning Wednesday on suspicion of deliberately destroying evidence connected with the Harpaz affair, a corruption scandal involving Israel’s political and military leaderships during 2009 to 2011.
Police requested a five-day remand of Col. (res.) Erez Weiner, a former top aide to then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and former IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu, who were both described to the courts as “a danger to public security.”
Weiner and Benayahu will spend the night in police custody and will be further investigated on Thursday, Channel 2 reported.
On Tuesday, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court sentenced Lt. Colonel (res.) Boaz Harpaz — after whom the affair has been named — to 10 days of house arrest after he had been interrogated by police for several hours.
The investigation of the three former officers had been under gag order for several weeks, Ynet reported. According to police, all three are suspected of committing theft, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, fraud and breach of trust, and conspiracy.
Police said that Harpaz, Weiner and Benayahu had all illegally collected and secretly distributed materials aimed at defaming IDF officials as well as senior politicians. The three are suspected of conspiring to stymie the nomination of Brig. Gen. Yoav Galant to succeed Ashkenazi as chief of the IDF General Staff.
The police added that Benayahu and Weiner had illegally held classified and confidential documents.
On Wednesday, police uncovered a personal computer with classified IDF information at Benayahu’s home.
In response to the allegations leveled against him, Benayahu said that it was “hard” for him to hear he was a danger to the public.
“For two decades I was worthy of being in senior, sensitive positions,” Benayahu said. “I spent most of my adult life working for the public.”
Benayahu said he had been involved in the affair “not of his own will,” as according to him he had only been a mediator between Ashkenazi and senior politicians.
The investigation into the affair was sparked by a document released to the press by Harpaz purported to detail Galant’s plan to gain the nomination and smear Ashkenazi. First revealed on Channel 2 News on August 6, 2010, the police found within days that the author of the document was Harpaz, “a family friend,” by his own admission, of Gabi Ashkenazi and his wife, Ronit.
In January 2013, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein issued a report on the affair, in which he accused Weiner of having a hand in the drafting of the forged letter. The report, which detailed a bitter interoffice battle between Ashkenazi and then-defense minister Ehud Barak, also said Weiner offered to carry out covert activities against the defense minister for his boss.
The report found fault with Ashkenazi and, to a lesser degree, Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was chided for not stepping in to calm tensions at defense headquarters.
As for Harpaz, the former rear-echelon officer in the army’s special ops directorate said he had contacted Ashkenazi but then revised his statement and said that on October 22, 2009, the chief of staff got in touch with him. Ashkenazi claimed it was the other way round. Regardless, both conceded that Ashkenazi had put Harpaz in contact with Weiner.
Ashkenazi first met Harpaz in 1994 when he served as head of the operations branch in the General Staff and Harpaz was head of the logistical side of operations in the General Staff’s commando unit, Sayeret Matkal.
In a statement to the press Wednesday, Ashkenazi said he was “sure” that the police investigation into the affair would yield positive results and would prove Weiner and Benayahu had not committed any crimes, Channel 2 News reported.