Deep in Bibi's inner circle, fear and mistrust rule

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 1, 2012

Benjamin Netanyahu's administration will not be three years old until the end of this month, but he is already onto his fifth press secretary.

That's less than nine months' service for each of them - hardly job security. The last press secretary, Dr Yoaz Hendel, lasted only six months before being forced out in less than auspicious circumstances, replaced by his deputy, Liran Dan. Dr Hendel barely stayed enough time to register a presence but his departure is directly linked to another much more momentous personnel change at the Prime Minister's Office.

Chief of Staff Nathan Eshel has been a confidant of Mr Netanyahu for many years, a central member of what was once known as "Bibi's submarine". Equally importantly, he is a close friend of Mrs Netanyahu and the person she most trusted to keep her appraised on political and media events.

Mr Eshel was not only a loyal family retainer, he was also deputy executive director of Yisrael Ha-Yom newspaper, owned by American billionaire and Netanyahu backer Sheldon Adelson.

Following the last elections, his appointment as the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff was expected - one of his chief roles was co-ordinating the office and official residence, where he was often to be found, administering to Sarah Netanyahu's needs.

The Netanyahus have now lost Eshel following a disciplinary hearing in which he admitted to harassing a female employee at the Prime Minister's Office (in a non-sexual manner) and agreed to leave his post.

Three senior aides complained about Eshel's conduct to the Attorney General and, although their action was ultimately vindicated, Mr Netanyahu has informed them that they have lost his confidence for not informing him in advance.

Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser is currently staying at his post, though chastened and almost certainly without the hope of a spot on the Likud list for the next Knesset elections. Military Adjutant Major General Yohanan Locker was on his way out anyway.

Bureau Director Gil Sheffer, another Netanyahu family favourite, who was aware of Eshel's conduct but remained silent, is the new Chief of Staff.

Former staffers complain that the bi-loyalty required of a chief of staff who works at both the Prime Minister's Office and his home, and Mr Netanyahu's increasing lack of trust in key members of his entourage, are problems that continue to hamper his ability to govern effectively.

Last updated: 3:12pm, March 1 2012