Liberman's ministry could exit with him

If the prime minister decides to close down the Strategic Affairs Ministry, then the tasks would be transferred to the Defense Ministry.

lieberman new 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lieberman new 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Government officials in Jerusalem said Monday it was quite possible that if Avigdor Lieberman left the coalition, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would close down the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which was tailor-made for the Israel Beiteinu leader. In this scenario, it is likely that the tasks the ministry has been involved with would be transferred to the Defense Ministry. The only exception, according to the officials, would likely be the Liaison Bureau (Nativ), which is an office that was originally set up in the early 1950s to maintain contact with Jews beyond the Iron Curtain, and encourage aliya. The Liaison Bureau was moved from the Prime Minister's Office to the Strategic Affairs Ministry after Kadima joined the coalition. It would most likely - according to the officials - go back to the PMO. Lieberman, through the Liaison Bureau, has been trying to make inroads among Russian Jews in Germany, Canada and the US to get them to make aliya. A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, refused to speculate about the future of the ministry, saying instead that "in the Prime Minister's Office they are hopeful that Lieberman would remain inside the coalition." The officials said that with Israel facing challenges in the peace process and on the issue of Iran, "this is not time for political turmoil, but the time for positive forces to be in government and contribute." A source close to Lieberman said it was important that the ministry remain even if he decided to leave. They said the ministry had played an important role in preparing Israel for the strategic threat posed by Iran. "The prime minister has to do a million things, so there has to be someone who deals with Iran full time," the source said. "Israel is more ready today, because the ministry exists." Besides closing down the ministry, Olmert's other options include giving the portfolio to Vice Premier Haim Ramon (Kadima) or to Minister-without-portfolio Ami Ayalon (Labor). Sources close to Ayalon said he was interested in the Iran issue but was not dealing with the question of whether to request the ministry. If Olmert decided to close down the ministry as a gesture to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, sources close to Barak said he would not be impressed. They said Barak was unaware of what the ministry had been doing and that it never interfered with the work of the Defense Ministry. Asked about the ministry's fate, Lieberman said that this and all other questions would be answered at his press conference on Wednesday.