The IDF chief of staff and the defense minister have offices on opposite wings of the fourteenth floor of the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv. The arrangement is meant to facilitate smooth and swift communication between the legislative and martial branches of Israel’s democratic structure.
But that’s rarely been the case. The long hallway between the two offices has seen its share of enmity but never before has that animosity been so public and so long-lasting as it was during the overlapping tenures of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. The two hardly spoke to each other and, as the so-called Harpaz affair reveals, feuded bitterly over Ashkenazi’s replacement.
The first draft of a state report on the Harpaz affair will be released Sunday, and will likely show that though the succession battle broke open with the revelation of the forged document at its center, tensions between the two men had simmered for a long while prior to that.
April 6, 2010: Barak announces that he will not grant the customary fifth year of service to Ashkenazi. Ten months before the end of his term, the battle for succession begins.
August 6, 2010: Amnon Abromowitz reveals on Channel 2 what is at first called the Galant Document, named for Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, OC Southern Command and the defense minister’s presumptive choice for the position of chief of staff. The paper bears a PR firm’s letterhead and seems to have two primary goals: “Constructing a positive public media profile for Galant” and removing the sheen from the chief of staff by “developing a profile of Gabi Ashkenazi as serially insulted, [like] David Levy.”
August 23, 2010: Police question Lt. Col. Boaz Harpaz, a former non-combat intelligence officer in the IDF’s most elite field unit, Sayeret Matkal, and other divisions of the special operations branch. Harpaz admits to having forged the document in order to aid Ashkenazi but maintains that he acted on his own.
August 30, 2010: Chief of Staff Ashkenazi admits to having seen the document several months prior to its publication. His assistant, Col. Erez Weiner, received it from Harpaz. Ashkenazi, however, contends that he believed it was an authentic document. The police call him in for questioning and clear him of criminal suspicions.
September 2, 2010: Defense Minister Barak appears before the General Staff and says he is “concerned” by efforts being made to “stop and postpone the appointment process of the chief of staff and to illegitimately influence that decision.”
September 5, 2010: The cabinet authorizes the defense minister’s pick for the next chief of staff: Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, a former commander of the Naval Commandos who is believed, among other things, to agree with the defense minister’s position on Iran.
October 26, 2010: State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss announces that his office will begin an investigation into the affair.
September 2, 2011: Ayala Hasson of IBA news reveals that Gabi Ashkenazi’s wife Ronit met with Harpaz in March 2010 and gave him the name of someone who had what he called “a box of explosives” on Galant. The documents indicate that Galant acted unlawfully in the seizure of lands around his rather palatial home in Moshav Amikam and that he lied about it in depositions to the courts and in a signed letter to the Israel Lands Administration. Ronit Ashkenazi proceeds to send Harpaz some 1,500 text messages over the coming weeks, urging him, among other things, to release the information he has assembled to the press.
February 1, 2011: In light of the Amikam land scandal, Defense Minister Barak and Prime Minister Netanyahu announce that Maj. Gen. Galant will not be appointed the next chief of staff.
February 14, 2011: Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz is made the IDF’s 20th chief of General Staff. Several weeks before the appointment, he told Ilana Dayan of the Uvda program that the Harpaz affair had to be thoroughly investigated and that “the carcass needs to be removed from the room because until it’s thrown out, the place will still smell bad and the room will continue to stink.”
March 4, 2012: State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss distributes drafts and partial drafts of his report to Ehud Barak, Gabi Ashkenazi, Benny Gantz, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, Erez Weiner, and Barak’s chief of staff, Yoni Koren.
January 6, 2013: State Comptroller releases report placing lion’s share of blame of Ashkenazi and Weiner, but finding fault with Barak, his staff, and Netanyahu. Report describes a “most worrying” state of affairs and finds high levels of mistrust, hostility and dangerous paralysis at army’s highest levels. Barak calls for criminal investigation of Ashkenazi.