Jerusalem: A senior Israeli official said on Saturday that sensitive intelligence information was withheld from the country`s hawkish foreign minister when he was the strategic affairs chief several years ago.
The official did not give the reason for the measure against Soviet-born Avigdor Lieberman, which would be rare for a top official and doubly extraordinary for a minister whose portfolio specifically deals with coordinating security initiatives. The most important work of the ministry in recent years has involved the threat from Iran`s suspected nuclear weapons program.
However, immigrants from Communist nations are known to struggle with gaining security clearance — and this may be true of Lieberman, who is considered close to some top officials in his homeland. Furthermore, Lieberman`s situation has been complicated by years of corruption probes.
The official said Lieberman had not been given full access to secret information while he was minister of strategic affairs from October 2006 to January 2008. The official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said that did not mean Lieberman was under any particular suspicion. The official did not know whether Lieberman`s security clearance was upgraded in 2009, when he became foreign minister in the current, more hawkish government.
Lieberman`s spokesman, Tzachi Moshe, said the allegations were "absolutely and unequivocally false," adding that Lieberman passed a comprehensive security inspection and as strategic affairs minister held dozens of meetings with the heads of the Mossad intelligence agency.
A spokesman for Ehud Olmert, prime minister at the time, denied any knowledge of Lieberman`s supposed marginalisation. He, too, spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity.
Lieberman, who immigrated from what is now Moldova some three decades ago, founded the hard-line Yisrael Beitenu party, which currently holds the third biggest faction in Parliament, giving its leader significant clout. He is known for his combative style and a brash brand of diplomacy that seems to have won Israel few friends in his years as foreign minister.
He has, however, been warmly received in Belarus, which he has frequently visited and where he is considered close to the leadership, which is widely seen as one of the most authoritarian in Europe.
He is currently awaiting a final hearing on whether he will face corruption charges. Israel`s attorney general announced in April that he intended to indict the foreign minister on charges of breach of trust, aggravated fraud, money laundering and harassing a witness. Lieberman is suspected of illicitly receiving money and laundering it through shell companies.
If indicted, Lieberman would likely be forced to resign. He has denied the accusations.
The strategic affairs portfolio, created largely to accommodate Lieberman, is currently held by former military chief Moshe Yaalon.