Politics: Bibi's boys

Names for top slots in the Prime Minister's Office continue to be bandied about, and the list is by no means final. But here's who they are.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 26, 2009 21:33
Politics: Bibi's boys

netanyahu in knesset 248.88. (photo credit: GPO [file])

 
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Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu sat in the Knesset seat reserved for the opposition leader at Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony for MKs, knowing that he would soon move to the chair at the head of the government table that was still occupied by Ehud Olmert. He looked around the plenum, as the MKs were sworn in by alphabetical order. The 26 Likud MKs in back of him were fewer than he had hoped to bring. But they were not the only ones who owed their Knesset seats to him. No fewer than four former Netanyahu aides took the oath, representing three different parties. There was his former director-general at the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who was there with a dowry of 14 MKs that will make him the leader of the Likud's largest coalition partner. At the government table sat Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham of Kadima, Netanyahu's former secretary. Not far from Netanyahu sat MK Gilad Erdan, who was his adviser for public complaints when he was prime minister and is now the Likud's No. 3 man. And on a back bench sat his former aide, Ophir Akunis, who barely won a Knesset seat by the narrowest margin in the Likud primary. Netanyahu has until March 20 to build a coalition without having to ask President Shimon Peres for an extra two weeks. Until the coalition is formed, Netanyahu does not intend to start appointing his staff for the PMO. But that won't stop the speculation among the candidates for senior positions in a Netanyahu administration, who want to be involved in leading the country over the next few years, and who know that a key role could propel them into the next Knesset, in the footsteps of Lieberman, Avraham and co. THE FOLLOWING is a far-from-final list of the people who are expected to be part of Netanyahu's team: • Eliezer (Moodi) Sandberg, cabinet secretary A former minister of national infrastructures and science and technology, Sandberg will be the first cabinet secretary who came to the position after a political career, rather than before it. The role was held by several future MKs, including Gideon Sa'ar, Dan Meridor, Isaac Herzog, Dan Naveh and Yossi Beilin. He will use his political experience to help put out political fires in a potentially volatile coalition. • Shmuel Slavin, director-general A former director-general of the finance and social welfare ministries, and currently a successful businessman, Slavin could help Netanyahu run the Finance Ministry from the PMO as he intends to do, especially if the Treasury is run by a novice like Lieberman. Other people being considered include businessman and former Likud treasurer Izzy Tapoohi, and current Knesset director-general Avi Balashniov. • Ron Dermer, director of policy planning and communications A former Jerusalem Post columnist and economic attaché in Washington - who co-wrote Natan Sharansky's best-seller, The Case for Democracy - Dermer will be in charge of making a structural change in Israel's international public relations effort. He will work on enhancing coordination with the foreign and defense ministries and with the IDF, and lead a staff of professionals who will explain Israel's positions to the world. "I look forward to meeting with people who have been involved in PR efforts in the past, to understand what they have done thus far, and what can be done do to improve it," he said. • Ari Harow, bureau chief A member of Netanyahu's current staff for nearly two years - and a confidant for seven - Harow has worked his way up from foreign affairs adviser to bureau chief and de facto chief of staff. It is still unclear what his title will be in Netanyahu's administration, but he currently spends more time with Netanyahu than anyone else, other than his wife, and that is unlikely to change. • Natan Eshel, senior adviser A former director-general of the defunct Hatzofeh newspaper and current deputy director-general of Israel Hayom, Eshel has been a confidant of Netanyahu's for many years and is now part of the coalition negotiating team. He has acted as a liaison between Netanyahu and Likud MKs. The title he will hold is unclear. He could be given the job of chief of staff or bureau chief. • Uzi Arad, national security adviser Arad will head the reformed National Security Council that will be given a much larger role due to the recommendations of the Winograd Report following the Second Lebanon War. A former Mossad intelligence director, Arad currently heads the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He has served as Netanyahu's top foreign policy adviser for several years, informally, and his role will be sanctioned in Netanyahu's administration. • Zalman Shoval, Dore Gold, Yitzhak Molho, external foreign policy advisers Netanyahu likes to rely on an experienced team of diplomats and professionals. Shoval is Israel's most veteran diplomat, a former MK and ambassador to Washington. He has attended all of Netanyahu's meetings with top international leaders for several years. In his first term, Netanyahu appointed Gold to his own former position as ambassador to the UN. He currently heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and advises Netanyahu. Molho is an attorney who served as chief negotiator with the Palestinians in Netanyahu's first term, and is expected to return to that role. • Yossi Levy, Dina Libster, Spokesmen for the Hebrew and Russian media A former spokesman for Lieberman, Levy led efforts to rehabilitate Netanyahu's image after years in which he lacked a professional media adviser. He is now hounded by Israeli media almost 24 hours a day. A former journalist, Libster advises Netanyahu on immigrants from the former Soviet Union and acts as his spokeswoman in the Russian-language press. • Yisrael Bahar, Shalom Shlomo, Oren Helman, political advisers Bahar is an internationally respected pollster who worked closely with Netanyahu during the campaign in a behind-the-scenes role. Shlomo is Netanyahu's current political adviser and his liaison to the Likud central committee. Helman is a former political adviser, who may return in a Netanyahu administration. • Yehiel Leiter Netanyahu's former chief of staff, who will serve in a key role in his administration, Leiter had been talked about as a potential cabinet secretary before Sandberg received the post. He could end up serving as director-general of the Education Ministry, where he once served as deputy director-general, or take a role in Israel's public relations effort. He ran for Knesset in the recent Likud primary, but was stymied by a fierce campaign against him led by Netanyahu's nemesis, Moshe Feiglin. • Danny Seaman, Rena Krakowski Riger, professionals dealing with foreign press Seaman is known for his high-profile role as head of the Government Press Office and his battles against the foreign press. When Seaman dropped out of his race for the Knesset, Netanyahu tried to draft him as a foreign press spokesman for his campaign. Riger has taken a behind-the-scenes role serving Netanyahu for more than nine years.

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