'Aquarium' empty but PM's aids labor on

Advisors help Olmert keep the Prime Minister's Office up and running.

sharon empty seat 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
sharon empty seat 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert phoned leaders of the country's Muslim communities Tuesday to relay holiday greetings on the occasion of Id al-Adha, a relatively innocuous act that, nevertheless, shows that the Prime Minister's Office continues to function. Although Id al-Adha - the Islamic Festival of Sacrifice marking what Muslims believe was Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Ishmael - was likely not foremost on Olmert's mind, he made the call, and he took another from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday afternoon. These gestures indicate that the advisers in the Prime Minister's Office are working as usual, six days after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered his massive stroke. Granted, Sharon's personal office - located in a glass-enclosed wing in the Prime Minister's Office known as the "aquarium" - has been empty since last Wednesday night. But the advisers who attend to Sharon continue to labor on. Olmert has not moved across the street from his office at the Ministry of Industry and Trade into the Prime Minister's Office, and he is not expected to do so unless Sharon is deemed permanently incapacitated and Olmert becomes the interim prime minister. In the meantime, Olmert is running things from his old ministry - save cabinet and security cabinet meetings - and is leaning on the same aides that Sharon relied on, augmented by a couple of his own confidants, such as his longtime secretary Shula Zaken and spokesman Hagai Elias. Dov Weisglass, whom one official said was not necessarily a stranger in Olmert's office (the two are friends), continues to advise Olmert, as does Sharon's diplomatic adviser Shalom Turgeman. Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon continues in the same capacity as under Sharon, as does the prime minister's military aide, Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni. The spokesman's office inside the Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, is now sending out messages about what Olmert is doing, and whom he is talking to. One official in the Prime Minister's Office said that Olmert reassured everyone soon after Sharon's stroke that they "had nothing to worry about," and that they would continue in their same jobs as long as he was acting or interim prime minister. In addition to using Sharon's staff to carry on with the business of the state, Olmert is also, according to sources in the Prime Minister's Office, consulting with the same advisers Sharon used for political matters: Reuven Adler, Yoram Raved, Eyal Arad and Lior Horev. "Remember, Olmert and Sharon are from the same party," one official said. "They have the same campaign goals in common."