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Top security officials briefed Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Thursday evening and "passed him the football" by bringing him up to date on classified information reserved for his eyes only.
This includes some of Israel's most sensitive security capabilities and issues he was hearing about for the first time. At one point, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had a one-on-one discussion with Olmert on information only privy to a select number of people.
Besides updates from the IDF, Olmert was expected to be briefed by the Mossad and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Olmert, who retired from the IDF with the rank of sergeant, is one of the few recent Israeli leaders who was not a general. This would likely lead him to rely heavily on Mofaz and other top security officials regarding defense matters.
"The entire defense establishment and myself at its head will in these days stand fully by the side of acting prime minister and do everything necessary to help him in this important task facing him," Mofaz told reporters in Tel Aviv.
Thursday afternoon Mofaz took the rare step of inviting photographers to film the situation assessment he held with the IDF's top brass and senior security officials.
The aim of this was to give the reassuring image that there was someone in the driver's seat with a foot on the gas and a foot on the brakes. This image of stability was not only meant for Israelis, but for the Arab world and Israel's enemies as well.
Mofaz sent a calming message, saying there was no need for any special deployment.
"I want to tell the citizens of Israel they can rest assured that this sensitive and complicated situation we have found ourselves in won't interfere even for a moment with the work of the defense establishment, the IDF, Shin Bet, Israel Police. We will continue to act with determination to protect the safety of Israel's citizens," Mofaz said.
"At this moment there is no reason for any special deployment. Our war against terror will continue with the same determination," Mofaz added. "We are very experienced and responsible people. The discretion around this table is such that we make our decisions in proportion to the security reality."
Meanwhile, the Shin Bet's bodyguard unit began protecting Olmert as they do the prime minister, beefing up his envelope of security. As vice premier, Olmert had already been under Shin Bet protection due to intelligence risk assessment that identified him as threatened.
Shin Bet bodyguards protect a total of 10 individuals in the state, including all the symbolic positions of the state like the president of the Supreme Court, Knesset speaker and President Moshe Katzav. It also protects the defense minister and as an exception included former prime ministers Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and also Olmert.
The other ministers are protected by their offices or police under the guidance of the Shin Bet. The transition with Olmert was relatively smooth, Shin Bet sources said, because they had already worked closely with him and were well tuned in to his routine, residence and family.
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