The campaign over who will be the next IDF chief of staff, already odd and dysfunctional, has taken a new turn for the bizarre. Everyone who reaches out for this rose seems to get pricked.
Several months ago, defense minister Barak began considering who would become the next chief of staff. The two top candidates were Yoav Galant, who eventually won the job only to be thrown to the winds this week by Bibi and Barak, when it was determined that he “stole” public lands and annexed them to his private property and lied about it. The other candidate was Benny Gantz, who ended up losing out in the competition. A third candidate was the sitting chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, who hoped Barak would extend his term. The only problem: Barak hates Ashkenazi. Not sure why, but this is common knowledge.
Before Barak designated Galant as his choice, a memo was released ostensibly written by Maj. Gen. Galant outlining a PR campaign to promote his candidacy and derail that of Benny Gantz. Except that it turned out that Galant didn’t write the memo. Instead, it was written and leaked by an Ashkenazi confidant, Lt. Col. Boaz Harpaz. Now why would an Ashkenazi confidant attempt to torpedo the candidacy of Galant when his man, the current chief of staff, was about to step down anyway? Did Ashkenazi favor Gantz for the job and so wish to help him? Maybe.
But I’ve come up with a new theory bolstered by an explosive revelation from the Israeli news media today. I’m guessing that Ashkenazi’s boy did this not in order to help Gantz, but in order to help Ashkenazi himself, who continued to harbor hopes that Barak might extend his own term. Harpaz figured that a cat fight between Galant and Gantz would cancel each of them out and leave Ashkenazi smelling like a rose and looking like a champion. Except it didn’t turn out that way.
The news today reveals that the government’s legal advisor has asked the Shabak to begin a criminal investigation into the Harpaz memo. The target of the investigation is under gag order, but a veteran Israeli political insider informs me that it is none other than Ashkenazi himself. Israeli media are unable to report Ashkenazi’s name in connection with the investigation. But I hope that I’ll give them a dose of courage by doing so here.
I’m tellin’ you this is becoming like comic opera. You have a sitting chief of staff under criminal investigation. You have a defense minister whose every nominee to assume the job self-destructs practically the moment he accepts it. I should add, on that note, that Barak had planned to promote his newly designated deputy chief of staff, Yair Naveh, to take the top job once Galant was knocked out of the running. But there is a requirement that every chief of staff must be vetted by a special commission headed by former Justice Yaakov Turkel (yes, that Turkel). Naveh hasn’t been vetted. So technically he can’t assume the job until he is. Barak had assumed he could appoint Naveh interim chief of staff on a temporary basis without going through this formality. But yesterday Knesset members protested against this circumvention of process. That’s when competing rumors began suggesting that Ashkenazi’s term might be extended as a face-saving way out of the mess.
I believe that the legal advisor, on hearing the proposal to extend Ashkenazi’s term and realizing it might be a credible proposal, decided he had to act on information he may have already possessed. My guess is that Yehuda Weinstein, the advisor, may’ve known all along about Ashkenazi’s direct involvement in the fraudulent memo, but decided that the taint of charging a sitting chief of staff with a serious crime would be too much for the nation and the army to bear. Since Ashkenazi appeared to be stepping down anyway, Weinstein might’ve decided that doing nothing would be the better course. But now that his name is again being floated, if he allowed Ashkenazi’s term to be extended and then the allegations came out, it would be even more devastating.
At any rate, the investigation will surely knock Ashkenazi out of the running and may send Barak and Bibi back to the Turkel Commission to formally vet Naveh’s name and get its approval. Presumably, this will take time and means that the position of chief of staff will be held by someone suspected of a major crime. Not to mention that the person likely to take his place, Yair Naveh, has his own set of skeletons in his closet as I’ve reported here extensively.
What I wrote on this subject last August seems, if anything, even more pertinent today. As you read this think of the challenges Israel faces with the upheaval in Egypt, and then wonder whether the IDF is up to the task of fulfilling the mission assigned to it by the nation:
What I want to know is how in hell is the IDF supposed to take on all these critical responsibilities to protect Israeli security when their generals seem more like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight??
…I think all of this proves that the IDF is no longer the invincible war machine it once appeared to be lo these many years ago. It has instead been transformed into an army of Occupation commanded by generals who treat their personal stock portfolios as more important than commanding troops in the field; and by generals for whom personal advancement has long ago replaced any devotion to nation or principle. Woe unto a nation that relies on such mediocrity to defend itself from harm…
Ashkenazi engages in criminal schemes to extend his reign. Galant steals government land. Naveh kills unarmed Palestinian militants in contravention of Supreme Court rulings, which the latter ignores in giving him the Good Housekeeping seal of approval to be deputy chief of staff. This is more like opera buffa than running the affairs of state.