Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s former chief of staff Natan Eshel engaged in
shuttle diplomacy between his ex-boss and Defense Minister Ehud Barak Wednesday
in an effort to resolve a dispute between the two that could lead to early
Eshel has good relations with Barak and was the architect of
the short-lived national unity government with Kadima that prevented elections
from being declared in May.
The dispute broke out Tuesday morning when,
in a conversation with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz that was leaked to the
press, Netanyahu criticized Barak for undermining him in meetings in the United
The fight intensified Wednesday when Likud ministers called on
Netanyahu to fire the Independence Party head, saying the prime minister told
them that Barak had defied him at a critical time for Israel’s relations with
But the defense minister made a point of refraining from
escalating the tension with Netanyahu. The Independence ministers and MKs he
sent to meet journalists on Wednesday downplayed the crisis and noticeably
attacked the finance minister, and not the prime minister.
igniting conflicts between people, Steinitz should be working on passing the
budget,” Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon said, calling Steinitz
MK Einat Wilf called the purported feud “a
She said Barak’s views had not changed and that Barak had told
her his partnership with Netanyahu was still strong.
“There is only
tension with the finance minister, which has been building because of their
disagreement over the budget,” she said.
Barak’s office released a
statement saying he was working to strengthen relations with the US, stressing
that security cooperation was at the heart of these efforts.
minister is attempting to lower tensions between Jerusalem and Washington and to
fortify American support toward Israel’s security,” the Defense Ministry
“Barak’s efforts have had a positive result, and he
intends to continue with those efforts.”
Likud officials said a reference
in the statement stressing the need for bipartisan support from Congress was an
attempt to paint Netanyahu as a Republican who had harmed Israel’s relations
with Obama and key Democrats. But Barak’s associates said the reference was
standard and had been taken out of context and proportion.
MK Zehava Gal-On dismissed the reported feud between Netanyahu and Barak as
“staged and coordinated ahead of the elections so Barak can run with the
Independence Party as a make-believe opposition to Netanyahu, and with that take
votes from the Center- Left bloc.”
Gal-On said her allegations would be
proven when “right after the election, Barak will fall back into Netanyahu’s
arms, and crawl back to Netanyahu’s government alongside [Labor leader Shelly]
Yacimovich and [Yair] Lapid.”