Lieberman dismisses critics of leaked ambassadorial post as 'thought police'

FM claims controversial appointment was just a 'suggestion,' calls for State Comptroller to investigate 'the serious phenomenon of leaks from within the ministry.'

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL, ALEX SORIN, , JPOST STAFF
July 14, 2009 21:49
3 minute read.

A day after unnamed Foreign Ministry sources railed against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's choice of neophyte politician Shlomo Kmissa to serve as Israel's ambassador to Egypt, Lieberman struck back at ministry bureaucrats, claiming that leaks from within the ministry threatened national security. Speaking at the Knesset's State Control Committee on Monday, where the discussion was devoted to political appointments in the Foreign Ministry, Lieberman asked State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to investigate Foreign Ministry employees for leaking sensitive information to the media. Lieberman said that the disclosures caused "severe security and diplomatic damage." Lieberman told the committee that following his appointment as minister with the formation of the Netanyahu government, he had encountered "the serious phenomenon of leaks from within the ministry, which seriously harm the state's interests by any scale of measurement." Committee chairman MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said he would request that Lindenstrauss consider Lieberman's allegations as a possible subject for a state comptroller's report. Sunday's leak regarding the appointment of Kmissa, a Hatzor Haglilit city councilman and a close friend and political supporter of Lieberman, raised eyebrows among many political veterans. Kmissa, 53, whose IDF career mostly included roles in field intelligence and who reached the rank of colonel, served as mayor of the northern development town until he was ousted in last year's elections. He was considered to be a key Lieberman supporter during the national campaign, and is currently - along with his brother - the subject of a police probe into alleged election irregularities and vote fraud. "Instead of appointing an ambassador with 15 to 20 years of experience in this field, they are appointing a man with none, and this is absolutely a problem," said former Israeli ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel. To enter the foreign service one must start young and at least hold a Bachelor of Arts degree, said Mazel, adding that the ambassador's post required up to 20 years of work experience. Kmissa would enter the post not only as a member of Israel Beiteinu, which is despised in Egypt, but also as a military man, in contrast to previous ambassadors, who had diplomatic experience and deep knowledge of Arab society. According to Mazel, Israel's ability to work diplomatically with Egypt and other Arab nations rested on their desire to conduct their diplomatic affairs with the Jewish state discreetly. "Relations with Egypt are very fragile and we need people with discretion who are capable of expanding the network of our relations with Egypt, without giving it too much publicity," said Mazel. But Lieberman deflected the criticism of the potential appointment during an interview with Israel Radio on Monday, calling the attacks on the move an act of the "thought police" and stressing that at this stage, the move was merely a suggestion. Lieberman went on to claim that there was a serious lack of qualified individuals to take up careers in the Foreign Ministry, and added that there was more to a successful career in the ministry than experience and specific qualifications. "I have encountered in several places people arriving not only without the language, but also without any suitable background. Sometimes not everything is about formal education - sometimes you also need a bit of common sense," stated Lieberman. Egypt would have to agree to accept Kmissa as ambassador before he could assume the post in Cairo. For the most part, the host country agrees to a foreign country's appointment, but there are occasions when a posting is rejected. Given Kmissa's lack of experience and close association with Lieberman, a rejection from Cairo would be highly likely. "When you nominate an ambassador you choose someone who is capable of being accepted officially and by the society. You nominate someone who is able to contribute to the well-being of the relationship between the two nations, someone who is able to communicate on the issues. You don't send someone who is an ideologue," said Abdel Raouf el-Reedy, former Egyptian ambassador to the United States and chairman of the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs. AP contributed to this report.


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