Police question ex-IDF chief in succession scandal

Police question ex-IDF chief in succession scandal

Fraud unit grills Gabi Ashkenazi for third time in a week about his part in the Harpaz affair

Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Police questioned former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi Tuesday for the third time in less than a week about his part in a corruption scandal involving Israel’s political and military leaderships between 2009 and 2011.

Ashkenazi is suspected of breach of trust, obstruction of an investigation and providing unauthorized information in the so-called Harpaz affair. He was also questioned on Thursday and Sunday, along with his wife.

In January 2013, Israel’s comptroller issued a scathing report stemming from a state investigation into Ashkenazi’s relationship with former defense minister Ehud Barak that delayed over 150 senior IDF appointments, impacted the process by which Ashkenazi’s successor was chosen, and preoccupied both the chief of staff’s office and that of the defense minister for well over a year — a period that included Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault on Hamas in Gaza and the escalating effort to grapple with Iran’s nuclear program.

The crux of the dispute revolved around a mid-2010 attempt to influence the appointment of the successor to Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi.

As chief of the General Staff from February 2007 to February 2011, Ashkenazi was found by the report to have acted in “a manner unworthy” of a senior officer in his collaboration with Lt. Colonel (res.) Boaz Harpaz, an ex-officer who sought to besmirch Barak.

“The matter is especially grave,” State Comptroller Yosef Shapira wrote, “in light of the fact that Minister Barak is of the legislative branch, to which the chief of the General Staff is directly subordinate.”

Ashkenazi’s personal aide, Col. (res.) Erez Weiner, who was the primary point of contact to Harpaz, was also found to have acted in a manner unbecoming a senior IDF officer, an ongoing comportment that revealed “a mistaken understanding on his part of the boundaries between the permissible and the impermissible.”

The investigation into the affair was sparked by a document released to the press by Harpaz purported to detail a plan by Brig. Gen. Yoav Galant, a candidate to succeed Ashkenazi, 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 March 2014, police arrested Weiner and former IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu, who were both described to the courts as “a danger to public security.”

Harpaz was sent to 10 days of house arrest after he was 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 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.

For his part, Benayahu said he had been involved in the affair “not of his own will,” as he had only been a mediator between Ashkenazi and senior politicians.

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