Isn’t it instructive to note that Egypt has just thrown off the yoke of a corrupt military dictator while Israel seems enmeshed in a web of military corruption reaching to the very highest echelons. Today, chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi is to step down from his position and almost immediately commence months of grueling police interrogation for alleged crimes involving the sale of advanced IDF weapons systems to foreign countries.
Israel, of course, has a booming military weapons industry which exports billions of dollars worth of inventory abroad. That’s nothing new. But there are usually certain rules to which these sales adhere: you don’t sell the most advanced technology in order to preserve your military advantage over your Arab neighbors. Instead, you sell the penultimate version. Also, you sell to the west and Israeli allies and not to enemies of Israel or its allies, especially the U.S.
Ashkenazi, while he was director general of the defense ministry, allegedly broke all the rules and in major and criminal ways. He was aided in this endeavor by Lt. Col. Boaz Harpaz, who also fabricated a fake memo meant to destroy the candidacy of Yoav Galant, an Ashkenazi competitor for the IDF top job. An Israeli source tells me that he and Harpaz, sold the most advanced electronic warfare system Israel owned at the time to what they thought was an Italian customer. Only the ultimate destination of the system wasn’t Italy, but Venezuela. Who governs Venezuela? Hugo Chavez. Who’s Chavez’s best chum? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Imagine the prospect of Israeli pilots attacking Iran using air weapons systems which Iran itself already owns and has had a chance to study to determine its vulnerabilities. That means any Israeli leader foolish enough to send his pilots to attack Iran will send them into a firestorm from which they might not return.
Though I don’t know which system specifically was sold, Israel penetrated Syrian air space in 2007 in attacking the alleged North Korean nuclear reactor using a new electronic warfare system which disabled Syrian defenses. I’d have to think that such a system would be highly sought after by Iran if it could get its hands on it.
The method by which Ashkenazi arranged the sale was through Israeli companies for whom he had consulted before he became director general of the ministry. He also managed to funnel the commission on this weapons sale to his son, Itay, who himself was busy organizing his own suspect military deals on the side which managed to get approval, bypassing processes that should normally have prevented the sale.
Yisrael HaYom reports that Lt. Col. Harpaz recently had a passport and tickets ready to take him originally to Peru, and later changed to Venezuela. This compelled the Interior Ministry to issue an order preventing him from leaving the country. This development has led the Shabak to believe that Harpaz may’ve undertaken the weapons deal in collaboration with Venezuelan intelligence.
Not only do you have venality and corruption in high places, but you’ve got the possibility that a foreign intelligence agency has penetrated the highest level of the IDF command. We don’t yet know whether anything that severe happened. But what we do know is bad enough.
There are Israelis who will talk about a “few bad apples.” But this is the wrong tack to take. It is not just a few bad apples. There is a culture of corruption within the IDF that allows senior officers to become consultants for military contractors and earn millions in doing so. It happens too in the U.S. But in Israel this culture is younger and therefore tends to shock more. We should remember that Ehud Barak himself, who professes shock and horror at Ashkenazi’s corrupt dealings earned $8-million over four years as a security consultant. I can’t prove that he did anything corrupt in return for that lucre. But I can say that the temptation to join the gravy train is simply too much for some.
So think about this when you think about the brave Egyptian young people who gave their lives to bring their country out of an old order of corruption and backroom deals and into a new era of democracy, transparency and self-government. Does Israel deserve any less from its leaders?