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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The cold war between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak reached a new low over the weekend when one of Barak's closest advisers accused the prime minister of taking advantage of his illness for political gain.
Speaking on the Hot TV show Pulling the Strings, Barak's former bureau chief, Eldad Yaniv, analyzed how Olmert benefited politically from his recent prostate cancer diagnosis.
"Look at what Olmert accomplished with his illness," he said. "He understood its potential opportunities. It's a horrible thing, and he didn't ask for it, but in a very smart way, cleverly and seriously, he changed it into a huge asset."
Barak's office responded that Yaniv was speaking only for himself and that the defense minister did not agree with Yaniv's analysis. Barak's associates said Yaniv was not as close to Barak now as he was when he ran his successful campaign for the Labor leadership earlier this year, even though Yaniv continues to chair Labor's headquarters.
The tension between Olmert and Barak reached new heights last week when the defense minister ordered the top security officials under him not to brief Olmert without Barak's military attachÃ© present. Barak has also been seen as Olmert's fiercest critic and skeptic on the prime minister's political Right ahead of the Annapolis summit.
Barak's associates downplayed the disputes, but they took credit on Sunday for Olmert's decisions to insist that Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state be a precondition for the summit, and to allow the Annapolis conference to address the fate of the Golan Heights in an effort to persuade Syrian representatives to attend.
Officials close to Barak said he had raised both ideas in a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week and that Olmert was merely "adopting Barak's ideas." They said Olmert's shift on Syria was "an achievement" on Barak's part.
A source close to Barak commented on the police's seizing evidence on Sunday in its investigation of the prime minister, hinting that Olmert's legal troubles could lead to his eventual downfall.
"Like in any civilized country, the prime minister is part of the nation and no one is above the law," the source said. "I don't recommend eulogizing anyone yet, but if I were Olmert, after the Second Lebanon War, I would behave more modestly - especially toward Barak, who with his appointment, restored the nation's respect for the government after the public blamed Olmert for appointing Amir Peretz defense minister."
Olmert's associates responded that the prime minister listens to his ministers but decides independently. They said Olmert had already hinted he would demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
They did not react to the criticism of Olmert's legal troubles, saying Yaniv's statements were "unworthy of a response.
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