Battle on for security cabinet posts

'Downgraded' ministers hope for seat on the panel that really matters.

ehud olmert 88 (photo credit: )
ehud olmert 88
(photo credit: )
Now that the cabinet positions have all been filled and the ministers sworn in, the only government status symbol still to be doled out is membership in the security cabinet. This is the forum where the real stuff gets talked about. The more sensitive security debates take place there, rather than in the wider forum of the government, not only to ensure a more serious discussion, but also to limit leaks. The security cabinet - together with the chiefs of the IDF and intelligence services - is also convened in times of emergency, after major terrorist attacks and before large IDF operations to make decisions that can't wait for the regular Sunday government meetings. By law, the security cabinet cannot have more members then half the number of the government's ministers, which in this cabinet means 12, including the prime minister. In former administrations the cabinet included a much smaller membership and when the number of members grew, most prime ministers founded their own more exclusive circle of ministers to make the crucial decisions. Despite this, membership in the security cabinet is still a much coveted appointment, creating in effect a two-tier system, with first- and second-class ministers. There has been much jockeying during the last couple of weeks among the cabinet candidates over who will get to sit with the big boys. Half the members of the security cabinet are ex officio, their membership required by law. They are Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Justice Minister Haim Ramon, Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter. In addition, each coalition partner has a presence, so Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan and Trade, Industry and Labor Minister Eli Yishai will also be members, and Labor, as part of the coalition agreement, will have two additional members. Peretz has already decided on the Labor members. National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former general and the only former senior security figure among Labor's ministers, will be one. The other will be Ophir Paz-Pines, who received the post as a sweetener after not getting a full-fledged ministry despite reaching the third spot on the Labor list. He had to make do with the cobbled together title of minister-without-portfolio responsible for sports, culture, science, technology and Jerusalem affairs. He was also promised that none of the other younger Labor ministers would be members. That leaves two more spots in the cabinet that are supposed to go to Kadima members. Here matters aren't so simple and Olmert's advisers were tight-lipped Thursday, save to say "it will be revealed next week." It would be unthinkable to keep Shimon Peres, a former prime minister, No. 2 on Kadima's Knesset list and minister for development of the Negev and Galilee, out of the security cabinet. The same goes for ex-defense minister, now transportation minister, Shaul Mofaz. Being excluded from the select forum would have been one humiliation too many for him. But Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit, another downgraded minister, also thinks he should be there by right, as minister in charge of supervising the intelligence services, and so does former internal security minister Gideon Ezra, despite his moving downward to the Environment Ministry. But since there are only two free places, in the end two of them will have to make do with the diminished status of observer. It probably won't make much difference to national security, but it will create yet more reasons for resentment among Olmert's ministers.