Mossad Takes Over PM's Travel From Striking For. Min.

The strike by Foreign Ministry staff and their refusal to handle Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Athens next week have led the PM's bureau to turn to the Mossad for assistance in preparing the visit, in an extremely rare move. The foreign ministry workers' committee is furious, calling the move an unacceptable attempt to break a legal strike action.

Netanyahu is due to begin a two-day visit to Greece on Monday. Ahead of his visit the Foreign Ministry informed the PM's bureau that in view of the work stoppages by ministry employees, the embassy in Athens will not assist in preparing the visit.

"The ambassador will not receive the prime minister at the airport, and no foreign ministry official will lift a finger for this visit," a Foreign Ministry workers' committee source said.

The embassy employees have been involved in a struggle in recent months that aims at improving their pay and equating their benefits to those of Mossad, Shin Bet and other government agencies with missions abroad. The workers' committee argues that Israeli diplomats are discriminated against when compared to the salaries and benefits received by their colleagues in other services.

Due to the refusal of embassy staff to handle Netanyahu's visit to Athens, the prime minister's bureau turned to the Mossad, whose role abroad is not normally to arrange diplomatic visits. A senior official in Jerusalem said the request was brought to the desk of Mossad head Meir Dagan, who agreed to undertake the task.

The Mossad is being assisted in its newfound role by the bureau of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. The Greeks agreed to provide logistical support, are helping officials from the PM's bureau already in Athens for the visit, and are making arrangements for hotels and transportation.

Foreign Ministry officials were angry at the decision, and blamed the PM's bureau with attempting to break the strike.

"Since the sailors' strike in the 1950s the prime minister has not used the defense establishment to break a strike," a message from the workers' committee read. "In order to break a legitimate strike Netanyahu is using an agency whose role is to deal with security, not to coordinate delegations abroad."

Sources close to the prime minister dismissed such claims. "Prime Minister Netanyahu is not willing to have the strike at the foreign ministry undermine a strategic decision to strengthen ties with Greece in view of recent developments in our region," a source at the PM's bureau said. "The Mossad is not dealing with logistical aspects of the visit but with the political content, and with various coordinating activities with the Greek government."