Foreign Ministry officials Wednesday accused their minister Avigdor Lieberman of trying to institute a "Stalinist" regime inside the ministry after he announced that a top ministry official had been suspended for allegedly leaking information to the press.
Lieberman, in an interview published Wednesday in the Russian-language newspaper Vesti, said that the ministry's deputy director general for strategic affairs, Alon Bar, was suspended after the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) found him responsible for a leak that Lieberman said had "created tension" with the US.
He mentioned neither the subject of the alleged leak, nor where it appeared.
The Strategic Affairs department is focused primarily on Iran and on non-proliferation issues.
A statement put out by the ministry's spokesman said only that "an investigation was carried out following the leaking of classified information. In light of the findings, a disciplinary process was begun against the deputy director general for strategic affairs, Alon Bar. The process is being carried out by the Civil Services Commission, together with all the relevant bodies."
The statement pointedly did not say that Bar had been suspended, or that the Shin Bet was involved.
Bar gave a briefing earlier this week on the workings of his department to the country's ambassadors currently meeting in Jerusalem.
In the Vesti interview, Lieberman said Bar, who he characterized as "one of our brilliant diplomats," could no longer serve in "such an important position."
Prior to this position, Bar - considered a talented young diplomat with a bright future - served as former minister Tzipi Livni's diplomatic adviser.
One ministry official said that news of the proceedings against Bar had badly damaged morale inside the ministry, as had the manner in which Lieberman publicized the action. He said that Lieberman's actions, which he called "Stalinist," seemed aimed at striking fear in the heart of ministry workers.
"By naming names and departments, the ability of the ministry to work with colleagues in Israel and abroad has been compromised," one official said. "Other ministries are now going to want to distance themselves from us, and not bring us into sensitive discussions," he said.
Ministry sources close to Lieberman defended the action, however, saying that leaks were a chronic problem inside the ministry, and that Lieberman promised to deal with the issue from his first day in office.
Lieberman's bureau had no comment on the matter.