Why Was Danny Ayalon Fired?

Danny Ayalon, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington, was a surprise choice for deputy foreign minister in the new Netanyahu government in 2009 and a bigger surprise when he was suddenly dumped this month by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Israel Hayom reported this week that Ayalon was dropped from Yisrael Beiteinu’s list for next month’s election because he’d met several times with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton without checking first with Lieberman, who was “infuriated” when he found out. Lieberman didn’t have a very good relationship with his American counterpart, who the Israeli paper said had wanted her meetings with Ayalon kept secret from him.

The U.S.-educated Ayalon speaks fluent English; Lieberman does not.

Another version had it that Lieberman suspected his deputy of leaking information to the media behind his back.

Whatever the reason, he should have been sacked a long time ago for the damage he did to Israeli-Turkish relations. 

Turkish-Israeli relations were already in trouble in early 2010 when Ayalon summoned Turkish ambassador to Israel Ahmet Oguz Celikkol to his Jerusalem office and made him sit on a low seat while being rebuked regarding an anti-Israeli television show.  If that weren’t bad enough, Ayalon boasted of how he had humiliated the Turkish diplomat, telling an Israeli cameraman, in Hebrew, covering the event, “Pay attention that he is sitting in a lower chair … that there is only an Israeli flag on the table and that we are not smiling.”

The substance –it’s unclear if that included the style –of the reprimand was apparently ordered by Lieberman and had Netanyahu’s full backing. The Turks were furious and demanded an apology. Ayalon initially refused but finally complied.

That’s not the ony reason the Ankara-Jerusalem relations have been going steadily downhill, but it was a shove in that direction.

The Lieberman-Ayalon team has been an embarrassment to the foreign ministry, several career diplomats have told me. They have the smaller accounts and the important countries are handled by the prime minister and the defense minister. It is no secret that Netanyahu essentially took the biggest one of all, the U.S. portfolio, away from his loose cannon foreign minister and shares it with Ehud Barak.

Lieberman, a former barroom bouncer, has been under criminal investigation by Israeli authorities for the past 14 years; prosecutors may decide prior to the January 22 election whether to drop the case or proceed with charges.  If indicted, Lieberman may have to drop out.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.