After having already sidelined the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the National Security Council, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is now sidelining the Foreign Ministry: He refused to allow the head of research for Military Intelligence, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, to lecture at the annual conference of Israel's ambassadors unless the lecture is deemed "unclassified."
Some 100 ambassadors and consuls general will be attending next week's conference at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, which deals with diplomatic and security issues and public affairs. The lectures are given by senior government and military officials.
The Foreign Ministry asked Military Intelligence to send Brun to present the annual intelligence assessment to Israel's senior diplomats. But for reasons that are unclear, MI decided to seek Barak's permission for Brun to give the lecture.
Barak did not turn down the request, but presented a condition that stripped the lecture of all value: He demanded that it exclude classified intelligence information. Such a lecture would be very general, of the type normally given at civilian research institutes.
The Foreign Ministry then canceled its invitation to Brun.
Several other senior officials in the defense establishment and the intelligence community who are not subordinate to the defense minister have accepted invitations to lecture and will be appearing at the conference.
In recent months, Barak has stopped Israel Defense Forces officers from appearing at meetings in the Knesset and in government ministries on various pretexts. For example, he prevented officers from appearing before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee when it was discussing August's terror attack on the Egyptian border. He also stopped information about the attack from reaching the committee. In addition, Barak imposed restrictions on cooperation between MI and the National Security Council, which is part of the Prime Minister's Office.
The Foreign Ministry is reportedly very angry at both the defense minister and MI, arguing that it gives MI and the Defense Ministry a great deal of valuable material gleaned by its embassies on issues like the Iranian nuclear program and the situations in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.
The incident is likely to ratchet up tensions between Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The latter is said to be less than pleased that for the past three years, Barak has served as Israel's unofficial foreign minister, conducting talks with U.S. officials and foreign ministers worldwide.