Netanyahu's First Crisis / Who Gets Top Security Clearance

Incoming PM agreed inner security circle would comprise 4 ministers, but then expanded kitchen cabinet.

Benjamin Netanyahu's new government faced a crisis Tuesday over the number of cabinet members in the inner circle of security advisers, even before the ministers were sworn in.

In coalition talks with Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu apparently agreed to Lieberman's request that there be no more than four ministers - in addition to the prime minister himself - in the inner security cabinet, also known as the kitchen cabinet. The deal was that the inner circle would include Netanyahu, Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and two others appointed by Netanyahu.

But in an effort to resolve power struggles within his own party, Netanyahu expanded the security cabinet to include Likud officials Moshe Ya'alon, Dan Meridor and Silvan Shalom, as well as Labor's Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. Likud's Benny Begin also has been assured a position.

It's still not clear how exactly Netanyahu will get out of this mess, since Lieberman is insisting he stick to his commitment.

The inner security cabinet appears set to become the forum for high-level decisions in Netanyahu's government, just as Ehud Olmert conferred with Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

On Monday night, Netanyahu's associates boasted of including experienced generals like Barak and Ya'alon, a former chief of staff. But that was before the first signs of the crisis registered Tuesday, when Shalom was told that the security cabinet membership was being revoked because Lieberman wanted the number kept down.

Shalom did not take the news well, and Netanyahu reinstated the offer. But Lieberman made it clear he would not accept an expanded security cabinet, and said he had nothing against Shalom.