Remember Sandberg? He'll Be Cabinet Secretary

Former Tzomet and Shinui politician emerges as trusted aide to Netanyahu

The presence of Eliezer Sandberg, the designated cabinet secretary, amid the top Likud leaders on election night didn't draw any special attention. Few knew that Sandberg, who seemed to have disappeared from the political scene after the 2006 election, has been close to prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and his family for years, or that Netanyahu had been consulting with him frequently over the last few months on political matters.

Netanyahu's inclination to name Sandberg cabinet secretary became public only when Sandberg arrived at the Knesset for the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, at which point it also became known that he had been appointed a member of the Likud coalition negotiating team. The appointment was a surprise, but was received warmly within the party and in the political arena at large, where Sandberg is considered a pleasant, reasonable seeker of compromise who has not been linked with any political conflicts.

Netanyahu's political patronage could turn out to be what Sandberg needs to move him back to the center of political action. Sandberg's previous patrons include former Tzomet leader Rafael Eitan and former Shinui leader Yosef Lapid (under whom Sandberg served as science minister and infrastructure minister).

If Sandberg is indeed appointed cabinet secretary, it would be the first time a former minister serves in the post, which is seen as a stepping stone to enter the Knesset, and political service in general. Former cabinet secretaries who have gone on to become active politicians include Dan Meridor, Tzachi Hanegbi, Isaac Herzog and Gideon Sa'ar.

Shinui saved career

Sandberg's political career has long been lively and marked by his ability to identify opportunity. He has always been part of the center-right camp, but did switch parties within a short time frame. After serving as an MK representing the Tzomet party, he served another term under a Likud-Gesher-Tzomet bloc headed by Netanyahu and became deputy housing minister in 1998. He quit Tzomet before the 1999 election in favor of the Center party, but was too far down on the ticket to have much chance of getting into the Knesset. He jumped ship to Shinui and got the No. 5 spot on the ticket. The party won a surprising six seats, saving Sandberg's political career; by the 2006 election he was considered a major player in Shinui, which joined the Sharon government. Sandberg was appointed science minister and then replaced Joseph Paritzky as infrastructure minister.

Another major appointment facing Netanyahu is that of bureau chief. He is planning to fill the post with Natan Eshel, the deputy managing director of the Israel Hayom newspaper and former managing director of the religious newspaper Hatzofeh. Eshel, who is also a member of the coalition negotiating team, is considered to hold Netanyahu's confidence.