Never mind Iran...Netanyahu's office rocked by sex scandal

 

Jerusalem

The plot would have been too exotic for The West Wing, the relations in the Prime Minister's inner circle more fractious than those portrayed in Borgen. But the real-life drama that has unfolded in Benjamin Netanyahu's office in the last fortnight would certainly make a riveting television series, even if some of its twists and turns would strain the audience's capacity to suspend disbelief.

The storyline would go like this. A Prime Minister determined to stop his country's leading adversary from acquiring nuclear weapons is less than a month away from a crucial meeting with a US President anxious to prevent him launching a military strike. His top adviser and bureau chief resigns in a plea bargain acknowledging sexually harassing a female employee by taking inappropriate photographs of her, reading private emails and other "unbefitting and unacceptable" conduct.

But then the Prime Minister rounds on the three officials in his office who had reported the sexual harassment allegations for taking them not to him, but to the Civil Service Commission. The officials, who thought they were acting loyally by keeping the Prime Minister out of the affair, are affronted, so much so that one of them resigns.

This summarises recent events in Mr Netanyahu's office. Yoaz Hendel, the communications chief who resigned this week, is the latest casualty of the acutely embarrassing affair of Natan Eshel, a close ally of Mr Netanyahu and his wife Sara.

Under the deal he made with the Attorney General and the Civil Service Commission, Mr Eshel will leave his post on 1 March. The Commission interviewed 28 witnesses, including Mr Eshel, but not including the woman he was accused of harassing, known as R, who refused to testify.

This week, Mr Netanyahu, right, confirmed his annoyance with the three officials who took their concerns to the Civil Service Commission: Mr Hendel, the Cabinet Secretary, Zvi Hauser, and the PM's military secretary, Major General Yohanan Locker. While saying that he would have dealt "exactly" the same way with any suspicion of harassment, for him to be kept in the dark was a "tough hurtful, uncomfortable situation".

In one of the most a damning commentaries on the affair, Yedhiot Ahronot's Shimon Shiffer wrote that, having covered every Prime Minister since Menachem Begin, he had never seen as "conflicted and frenetic" a work environment as that surrounding Mr Netanyahu. Lamenting the "emptying" from his office of some of his best people, Mr Shiffer added: "Now try to think about how Netanyahu will make the decision that he is moving towards, according to foreign reports: A strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. To whom is he talking about this? Whom can he count on? It is a puzzle. To tell the truth, it is rather frightening."

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