Analysis: Ayalon likely loser in battle with Shalom

By David Horovitz May 17, 2005

Ultimately, there can only be one winner in the dispiriting spat between Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and US Ambassador Danny Ayalon, and it will likely not be the Washington envoy.

While outsiders wonder about possible successors – ex-minister Natan Sharansky, outgoing Jewish Agency chief Sallai Meridor, departing army spokeswoman Ruth Yaron, et al. – they’re not playing the name game yet at the Foreign Ministry.

But as far as the ministry is concerned, time is running out for Ayalon, the surprise beneficiary almost three years ago of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then foreign minister Shimon Peres’s inability to agree on a more senior or high-profile ambassadorial candidate.

Shalom is not about to demand that Ayalon, who had been ‘loaned out’ to the Prime Minister’s Office from the Foreign Ministry when he was selected for the Washington post, come home right now. The Washington leg of a Civil Service Commission investigation into allegations that Ayalon’s wife verbally abused domestic employers at the ambassador’s residence is only just getting under way. And Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has now asked that the commission also investigate Ayalon’s formal complaint against Shalom and his wife, Judy Shalom Nir Moses, which alleges that they sought the dismissal of one of the ambassador’s top aides, Liran Petrezil.

But by the time all the investigating is done and the relevant reports are written, summer will be upon us, and Ayalon will have served three years in DC. A fourth year? Forget it.

Sharon, according to his aides, is proffering full support for the envoy – unsurprising, given their earlier working relationship and the fact that the Washington ambassador invariably acts in close coordination with the prime minister. But there seems little doubt that, when Shalom insists that Ayalon come home – or else – in the summer, the prime minister will opt to keep his politically powerful foreign minister happy, rather than go out on a limb for a readily replaceable ambassador.

Shalom, it is understood, will have nothing further to do with the ambassador, who is energetically disparaged in the minister’s circles as a figure of mediocrity. Indeed, Ayalon must have known that he was committing diplomatic career suicide by filing that complaint with Mazuz. Still, having held the most prestigious of diplomatic posts, and been sent to the US as a ‘political appointee’ because more senior Jerusalem diplomats had offered their own candidacy for the job, Ayalon hardly had much to look forward to back ‘home’ at the ministry.

Shalom considers the timing of Ayalon’s complaint – precisely as the Civil Service Commission began its work in Washington – to be more than coincidental. And the notion that Shalom or his wife would have sought Petrezil’s ouster for the purported crime of failing to set up a photo-op for the couple with Madonna is ridiculed in the minister’s circles.

For one thing, it is said, the minister’s wife is not short of showbiz connections and could have set up her own Madonna meet should she desperately have wanted one; for another, the minister was in New York, at the UN General Assembly, when the singer came to Israel last fall and thus wouldn’t have been around to be snapped with the diva anyway.

With Ayalon claiming to have tape recordings to back up his assertions, it now falls to the commission’s investigators to get the bottom of it all.

Only one winner, but more than one loser. The real casualty of the dispute, as ever, will be the State of Israel. Its most important overseas legation, as Israel gears up for disengagement in the next few months and with close coordination with the US at a premium, will essentially be headed by a lame-duck envoy at absolute odds with his own minister.

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