Former Jewish Agency chairman Sallai Meridor was appointed as the next ambassador to Washington on Wednesday, replacing Danny Ayalon who has completed four years of service in the US capital.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni announced the decision following months of speculation about who would replace Ayalon.
Among those who had been in the running were former Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo, Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim, UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman, and Director-General of UJC-Israel Nachman Shai.
Meridor is expected to take up his position in December. He was a candidate for the job in 2002, and was prime minister Ariel Sharon's candidate to replace Ayalon in 2005.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said Meridor was the only candidate on the "short list" that both Olmert and Livni could agree upon, and that he was highly regarded by both of them, whom he has known for years.
The Prime Minister's Office, and not the Foreign Ministry, traditionally manages the relationship with Washington, and for this reason it is important that the candidate have the confidence of the prime minister.
According to diplomatic sources, Meridor is considered an able administrator who will do Olmert's bidding without seeking the limelight for himself.
Meridor's one weakness, said a veteran diplomat who praised him as "highly intelligent," was that he did not perform well in front of the media.
In addition to serving as the chairman of the Jewish Agency, which provided him with an detailed knowledge of the US Jewish community, Meridor also served as Moshe Arens's senior policy adviser when the latter served as foreign minister and then defense minister in the 90s. The scion of a family long considered Likud "royalty," Meridor is intimately familiar with the Israeli political system.
Before he was felled by a stroke, Sharon - according to diplomatic sources in Jerusalem - wanted to give Meridor the job, and Olmert raised his candidacy again after Sharon fell ill.
Meridor served as an IDF intelligence officer, and also worked for two years in New York as the Betar movement's North American emissary. He speaks English fluently.