Deputy PM: Netanyahu visited Russia

Meridor becomes first gov't official to admit trip; says content of visit is "better discussed privately."

dan meridor 224.88 (photo credit: Knesset Web site)
dan meridor 224.88
(photo credit: Knesset Web site)
Intelligence Affairs Minister Dan Meridor on Saturday confirmed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu secretly visited Russia on Monday. "He was in Russia," Meridor told Reuters, adding that there was "some controversy" created in the "way it was published in Israel." Meridor would not give any details on the visit, saying only that "The content was not discussed in public. Some things are better discussed [privately]." Meridor is the first government official to confirm the visit. The Prime Minister's Office has so far neither confirmed nor denied that the premier visited Moscow. On Wednesday, an unnamed Kremlin official confirmed to Russian paper Kommersant that had Netanyahu made the trip. However, the Kremlin press service said that "nothing is known" about reports of the visit. Throughout Monday, the PMO, when asked about Netanyahu's whereabouts, said only that he was on a tour. After hours of speculation, and numerous inquiring phone calls, the PMO finally released a laconic statement that "The Prime Minister's military attaché reports that the prime minister is visiting a security installation inside Israel." Netanyahu was accompanied to the installation by National Security Adviser Uzi Arad and the military attaché, Meir Kalifi, according to the statement. Commenting on the visit, the Kremlin official told Kommersant that "this kind of development could only be related to new and threatening information on Iran's nuclear program." The Russian newspaper quoted experts speculating that such a trip would only be justified under extraordinary circumstances, "for example, in the case of Israel planning to attack Iran." While details of the visit remained shrouded in mystery, the incident focused uncomplimentary attention on the day-to-day workings inside the Prime Minister's Office, where government officials say deep fissures exist between Arad and other senior staffers, such as spokesman Nir Hefetz and Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser. The officials said there is no central address inside the Prime Minister's Office, and that more than five months after Netanyahu was sworn in as prime minister, there are still no clear lines of authority, with one person often stepping on the toes and contradicting decisions made by someone else. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.