It’s the Prime Minister, Stupid

For two years now the public and the media have been following the Boaz Harpaz/Yoav Galant/Gabi Ashkenazi/Ehud Barak affair and are shocked over each new revelation of intrigue, conspiracy, and slander. Each side has its “fan club.” Ashkenazi’s supporters encourage him to malign the Minister of Defence and his bureau, and Barak’s friends try to convince us that Ashkenazi is actually an undefatigable subversive. The facts in this sordid affair have become secondary; what is important is who you root for. In any case, it’s preferable not to listen to either side.

When scrutinizing the facts, at least those that were published, it can be determined that both sides didn’t exactly honor their positions, but in fact are causing collateral damage that increases by the day. It’s doubtful if this affair will soon find closure since in Israel there is no tradition of taking responsibility or holding persons liable in earnest. This is especially true when not dealing with criminal activity but rather with deeds problematic from an ethical or disciplinary point of view; particularly, when the culprits are high ranking officials who should have been models of exemplary conduct to their subordinates.

What is particularly worrisome is that this affair was totally avoidable. The impossible state of affairs and the friction between the bureaus of the Chief of Staff and the Minister of Defence were well known for a long time. There were reports and all those involved; the media, the government, and even the public knew that all is not well between Barak and Ashkenazi, to put it mildly. The person who should not only have taken note but also acted quickly and decisively to prevent the deterioration that did indeed take place eventually, is the Prime Minister. He is the superior of the Minister of Defence. By law, the Chief of Staff is subject to the government’s authority and thus subordinate to the head of the government, the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is responsible for the functioning of his administration. He did not do what was required of him. He may have warned the two, he may have told them to tone down their fights, but in the end the result is what counts. On the face of things, the result was, “Ok.” Ashkenazi’s tenure passed without major hitches except for the cancellation of the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as his replacement. Except that severe damage was caused nevertheless since everybody saw what was happening and nothing was done to stop it. There was no leadership, the king was naked, there were no limits, everything was permissible, and no holds barred. This all happened at a time when the nation was in a crisis with regard to its foreign relations, the security situation, and crucial internal issues.

Last summer, we saw how citizens ran away from politics by holding “non-political” protests. Voter participation is down, people don’t like to join political parties, and are not looking for political involvement. Citizens are in denial and rather would like to “get home safely”. Actually, citizens follow the action in the media as if this affair is a chapter in the “Survival” reality TV series. It’s everybody against everybody and in the end, the wiliest, nastiest, and most devious character wins.

The fact that the media and the opposition both chose not to hold the Prime Minister responsible in this sordid affair is outright chilling.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is a member of the Council for Peace and Security and was a candidate in Labor’s 2012 primary election for the Knesset list