Up to the Same Old Tricks

During several weeks of dignified silence it appeared the Prime Minister's Bureau had got its act together and ceased feeding the media a daily dose of fiasco. Then came the affair of the Russian visit, which proved, alas, the bureau still has a full repertoire of old tricks.

A mote of dust in the prime minister's eye almost became a terminal illness. A "secret" trip to a friendly state (with details coming a day later) was blown into a fantastic saga - a cross between a John Le Carre novel and an Inspector Clouseau episode from "The Pink Panther."

Prime ministers occasionally go on secret visits. First, they brief the media adviser - that's the most critical area. How difficult was it to tell the media that the prime minister was visiting the Mossad, or Shin Bet, or working at home, or had a slight cold?

But Netanyahu and senior adviser Uzi Arad decided they know best and didn't tell media adviser Nir Hefetz where they were going. Their excessive suspicion and paranoia achieved the opposite result.

Hefetz, who had no idea where his boss had disappeared to, didn't want to lie to journalists and simply told the truth: I don't know.

The media went wild, the country was awash with speculation. Every rumor was seriously discussed, except that the prime minister had been abducted by aliens.

Later that day, while Netanyahu and his men were in Russia, his military affairs secretary asked Hefetz to issue a false statement to the press. Hefetz refused so the secretary told the press that Netanyahu was visiting a security facility.

Couldn't the bureau announce the day before that Netanyahu was going to Russia for a few hours, without the media? Former prime minister Ehud Olmert did that. To this day we don't know what he discussed with the Russian leadership. We probably never will. Olmert may have left under a cloud but his bureau was perfectly managed.

Something in the Arad-Netanyahu combination isn't working. The visit in London was fraught with dispute. In Paris, they left a disgruntled ambassador. The trip to Berlin was accompanied by a harsh letter of complaint from a prominent editor. The prime minister's men could do with a little less sophistication and a little more human relations, composure and discretion.