Lieberman Wants Sharon Aide as Foreign Ministry Special Envoy

Tension growing in Likud over prospect of Yisrael Beiteinu chairman's appointment as foreign minister.

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman is considering appointing attorney Dov Weissglas as his special envoy if Lieberman is appointed foreign minister. Weissglas, who served as bureau chief to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and as Sharon's special envoy to the United States, has been friendly with Lieberman for many years and also served as Lieberman's lawyer for a considerable time.

In his various ministerial positions in the Sharon and Olmert cabinets, Lieberman received extensive support from Weissglas. Just prior to last month's Knesset elections, Weissglas published an article in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in which he came to Lieberman's defense following harsh criticism of the Yisrael Beiteinu party leader.

Lieberman is also considering appointing newly-elected Knesset member and party colleague Danny Ayalon as deputy foreign minister. Ayalon is a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and is also a close associate of Weissglas. Those close to the coalition negotiations say, however, that prime minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu may seek to reserve the prestigious post of deputy foreign minister for a member of his own Likud party as a "consolation prize" for a Likudnik whose hopes of receiving a ministerial post are dashed.

At the same time, tension is growing in Likud between Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom over the prospect of Lieberman's appointment as foreign minister. Shalom would like to return to the foreign minister post, a position which he had to relinquish three years ago, and has made this clear to Netanyahu.

Ayalon and Weissglas are also thought to be strong rivals of Shalom. Weissglas has refused to comment. In reaction, a statement was released on Lieberman's behalf, saying, "the matter of portfolios has not yet been raised and we will not count our chickens before they hatch."

In the course of his direct negotiations with Lieberman on the formation of a coalition, Netanyahu has agreed that Lieberman's party will have five ministers in the government. In addition to Lieberman himself at the Foreign Ministry, Lieberman is expected to give the justice portfolio, which is second in importance among the posts which Yisrael Beiteinu has been offered, to the current justice minister, Daniel Friedmann.

It is not clear how adamant Lieberman would be over Friedmann's appointment. Lieberman may prefer to forego the Justice Ministry appointment to make things easier on Netanyahu and to spare him public criticism as well as opposition from within Likud.

Two Yisrael Beiteinu candidates for ministerial posts who have already served as cabinet ministers are Lieberman's number 2, Uzi Landau, who is being suggested for a senior economic ministry, and Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who is mentioned as a possible minster of public security.