Netanyahu needs to act, and fast
The level of tension and mutual suspicion at the Prime Minister's Office has led to partial paralysis at the country's most important and sensitive bureau.
The head of the Prime Minister’s Office has spent the last 36 hours in a hotel on the Dead Sea. When he scheduled the holiday a few weeks ago, Natan Eshel probably did not think that between doses of mineral mud and sulfur baths he would have to hold talks with confidants and lawyers about his alleged harassment of R., his coworker.
In conversations with members of his close circle, held from the lowest spot on earth, he has rejected all the allegations against him, calling them libel. “How could I get into her e-mail?” he asks. “In the Prime Minister’s Office, computers can only be accessed with a personal card and a password.”
However, other sources in the PMO maintain that what has thus far been published in the media – about Eshel reading text messages in R.’s mobile phone, keeping track of her work hours and entering her e-mail account – is only the tip of the iceberg.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself does not yet know the whole story, these sources say. “Most of the details haven’t yet been made public,” says a source in the PMO. “It’s not just harassment, but actions that border on sexual harassment.”
Eshel is expected back from his holiday break this afternoon. He will report immediately to the PMO. Absurdly, among those he will find in the bureau are Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser and the head of the National Information Directorate, Yoaz Hendel, along with a few others who filed complaints against him to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.
The level of tension in Netanyahu’s bureau has risen to intolerable heights. Mutual suspicions, bad blood and a desire for revenge are rampant. Whether Netanyahu and his aides admit it or not, the consequence of this state of affairs is the partial paralysis of the most important and most sensitive office in the country.
“What is happening now is causing Netanyahu tremendous damage,” a confidant of the prime minister says. “Instead of the media dealing with the battles between [Shaul] Mofaz and [Tzipi] Livni in Kadima, the spotlight has again shifted to the conflicted bureau, the examinations undertaken by the Civil Service Commission and the investigations by the attorney general.”
Netanyahu has not issued a response since the story broke on Tuesday. The only comment that emerged from the PMO, immediately after the initial report on Army Radio, deemed the report “gossip.” Sources in the PMO noted that Eshel himself pressed for the use of that term. Others said it was an instinctive reaction, made out of panic.
So far, the prime minister has done nothing, but the storm caused in the wake of the report could end up reaching his wife, as Eshel happens to be one of her closest confidants. “The PMO will not be able to continue functioning like this for much longer,” a confidant of the prime minister said. “These people can no longer work together.”
Netanyahu has to act. Fast. Today. If he thinks there is even the slightest possibility that the allegations against Eshel are correct, he must suspend him immediately. If he thinks the advisers who complained against him made up the story or tried to carry out a targeted assassination of the bureau chief, he has to show them the door. His inaction is hurting not only him but the country.
The blog of Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent, taking a deeper look behind the scenes of Israeli politics and foreign policy.