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(photo credit: AP)
The appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as minister in charge of strategic threats on Monday is meant to ease Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's task as he deals with the growing nuclear threat from Iran.
Final decisions regarding Israel's policy with respect to Iran remain in the hands of Olmert and his security cabinet of which Lieberman will now be a member.
Lieberman's new role is to coordinate security, intelligence and diplomatic initiatives with respect to Iran or any other strategic threat and to report to on the issue to Olmert, according to Olmert's spokeswoman, Miri Eisin.
In announcing the appointment on Monday, Olmert was careful to
note that Lieberman was not replacing any existing authority but rather was there to augment the ongoing efforts of existing bodies with respect to strategic threats such as Iran. All ministries, security and intelligence bodies would continue to hold their same area of responsibilities, the prime minister said.
"He [Lieberman] will oversee - on my behalf - the formulation of Israeli policy regarding strategic threats against Israel and will, to this end, coordinate between the various relevant intelligence and security services. Nothing in the foregoing shall be construed so as to detract from the responsibilities of any other minister regarding the affairs of his or her ministry," said Olmert.
He said Lieberman would also supervise the Nativ liaison office, which helps to facilitate the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
While Lieberman's task is to examine all strategic threats, it's clear that much of his work would be taken up with Iran, said Eisin.
His work would help the prime minister and the cabinet "make major decisions" with respect to Iran. In anticipation of the weight and complexity of the Iranian nuclear threat, a full-time minister is needed to coordinate among the various bodies, a number of whom such as the Mossad, the National Security Council, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Shin Bet security agency already report to the prime minister, said Eisin.
There have been several ministers-without-portfolio in the past who have sat in the Prime Minister's Office and dealt with strategic matters.
Dan Meridor was responsible for national defense and diplomatic strategy. Uzi Landau was in charge of strategic cooperation between the United States and Israel, and Tzahi Hanegbi was in charge of strategic issues.
But according to Eisin, this the first time there has been a minister designated to deal with strategic threats and to coordinate all efforts in this regard.
Ephraim Kam, the deputy head of the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, was skeptical about Lieberman's appointment.
"Before his appointment no one suggested that we needed such a position," said Kam, adding: "I know of no government in which such a position exits."
Still, he said, "We have to judge him according to his future behavior. We shall see in the next few months whether his position is useful or just a waste of money."
But Giora Eiland, the former head of the National Security Council, a body that would work closely with Lieberman, said that his task was similar to that of Meridor and Hanegbi in previous administrations.
Eiland said it was helpful to have a minister charged with security matters in the Prime Minister's Office.
Given Lieberman's personality, Eiland assumed that he would be very proactive. He predicted that Lieberman's stiffest challenge would be any future dialogue that would occur between him and the United States.
"He needs to be seen as someone they can work with," said Eiland. To be a good partner for such dialogue he has to be perceived as reliable and relevant, said Eiland.