Netanyahu Can Barely Control His Bureau; Can He Run the Country?

Veteran reporter Shimon Schiffer says he has never seen such poor teamwork as in Netanyahu's office. Now that the infighting has become public following the resignation of the chief of staff over harassment allegations, the prime minister’s staff is leaving in droves.

al-monitor Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 19, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Sebastian Scheiner/Pool.

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Feb 29, 2012

There’s nothing to worry about: Netanyahu and Obama’s talks in Washington in two weeks [March 5] will not be affected by the dizzying round of resignations from the Prime Minister’s office.

You can rest easy. The El Al hired airplane will leave on time, or whenever the Netanyahu couple enter the plane and stretch out in the bedroom corner to be installed for them. Netanyahu’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in the American capital will evoke excited applause, and everything will run like clockwork. That’s the way it is: the apparatus at the disposal of the Prime Minister is a well-oiled one, and is not jostled on the caprices of any specific official who has gone astray, or an advisor forced to resign because he fulfilled his civil duty. But behind the scenes, a free-for-all reigns.

I have covered the activities of prime ministers from the time of Menachem Begin. I have tallied up many hours of observing the work of their offices, and I can testify that I have never encountered a work environment as conflicted and crazed as that of Netanyahu’s. The only Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that came close was that of Ehud Barak during his short tenure. But Netanyahu’s second term broke all records. Imagine — a group of people, supposed to represent the best national product, simply cannot function as a team. The only thing they are successful at is sending enormous quantities of messages to the mobile phones of journalists. How I long for the harmony of the days of yore — the offices of Begin, Shamir, Sharon and Olmert, who simply focused on the proper management of the state.

Under the current circumstances, ministers and high-placed officials in the political and security systems exploit the cracks in Netanyahu’s proximity to further their private interests. It is no wonder, then, that those same ministers, including the knights of law and morality, do not dare open their mouths to protest Netanyahu’s settling of accounts. Now, think for a moment about how Netanyahu will arrive at the decision that, according to the foreign press, he is preparing for: a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Who can he talk to about it? Who can he rely on? Truth be told, it’s a frightening thought.

Meanwhile, the PMO is emptying out. Dr. Yoaz Hendel, who resigned his post on Wednesday [February 22] as the head (spokesman) of the National Information Directorate, is a talented man, salt of the earth. He joined the PMO out of a sense of mission, despite all the warnings he received. But he did not anticipate the world of intrigues and hush-ups he encountered at the most important juncture in Israeli political life, and was not prepared to buy Netanyahu’s argument that “proper procedure” dictated that Hendel should have reported to him, the prime minister, that Chief of Staff Natan Eshel was harassing a female worker in his office. “Proper procedure” and Netanyahu? The State Comptroller’s Office is currently working hard writing reports about to the functioning of the prime minister, reports that will show that Netanyahu and/or his PMO are not wont to follow “proper procedure.”

After Hendel, next in line (whistleblower number two) is probably Major-General Yohanan Locker, the prime minister’s military adviser. Despite the fact that Locker has garnered much prestige with Netanyahu over the last two years, evidently he, too, is on his way out. Number three is attorney Zvi Hauser, cabinet secretary. After he locks the entrance door to the ministerial meeting room, he, too, will go on his way.

Netanyahu will remain with whomever is left: the weak or weakened aides, just as he likes. The sergeants will be promoted to officers; the junior aides will prepare shiny new calling cards with new titles. But don’t worry, their day will also come. They, too, will be silenced; they, too, will have to go job-hunting. In the end, the last one out the door will be asked to turn off the lights.

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