For a decade, since losing the premiership in the spring of 1999, Benjamin Netanyahu dreamt about returning to the top. He hoped, planned and schemed, until finally his dream came true and he was brought back into power. But, on the basis of his performance to date, it is hard to imagine that he has spent as much as 10 minutes in organizing the Prime Minister's Bureau.
Ahead of the Knesset elections Netanyahu boasted of his "First 100 days team," which was meant to prepare his smooth takeover, in the tradition of U.S. presidential succession. One hundred days? It's been more like 100 horrors - of the sort the members of Netanyahu's team have been committing against each other, before the eyes of an amazed, mocking and disappointed public.
The Netanyahu bureau is divided and caught in the chaos of factions, infighting, battling for a position close to the prime minister and access to information - including the lie detector that hangs like a sword over their heads. Except the polygraph test is meant to reveal when lies are told, but apparently in Netanyahu's bureau it is necessary to check when someone is actually telling the truth.
The most characteristic example of the raucous in his bureau was provided by the prime minister himself during his secret trip abroad, which was so classified that even the air force could not be relied on. The same air force whose pilots may be asked to risk their lives and fly to Iran could not be trusted - thus a great deal of money was spent on a private jet to transport the prime minister to Moscow.
Historically, prime ministers have kept secret their meetings with heads of state with whom Israel has no overt ties, a description that does not currently apply to Russia. But it is also important to know how to keep something secret, and Netanyahu fumbled. He kept in the dark those in his bureau who need to know how to answer in case they are asked about his whereabouts. When they refused to respond regarding something they did not know was reliable information, his military secretary, Major General Meir Kalifi, volunteered to lie.
Kalifi's conduct is a strange mistake for a person who to date had been considered a dedicated and professional soldier, who advanced through the ranks with nearly no problems (he was the commander of the Hebron Brigade when Baruch Goldstein carried out the massacre in the Tomb of the Patriarchs). Those in uniform - from the chief of staff, to the generals and the IDF spokesman, all the way to the lowliest officer - must not participate in an attempt to deceive the Israeli public. It is very difficult to gain trust, and easy to lose it.
The military secretary, who walks on the edge of a political and personal abyss, is not another personal lackey of a politician holding the premiership. His sole task is to liaise between the prime minister and the defense and intelligence communities. Other public matters must fall under the responsibility of the head of the national security panel, who comes into the job with the prime minister and leaves with him.
Netanyahu has the pretension to lead Israel like a great man, with Churchill as his model, but the amateurish and problematic fashion in which his bureau is organized does not enable him to manage a state. If the prime minister does not learn an immediate lesson from its conduct to date, the next big crisis may cause real damage to Israel.
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