Last updated: 22 February, 2012

Netanyahu’s chief spokesman resigns

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed on Wednesday that his main spokesman had resigned, a day after media reports named Yoaz Hendel as the latest in a string of high-profile figures to leave his office.

“Netanyahu thanked Hendel for his great contribution to Israeli public diplomacy in Israel and the world,” a statement read, adding that the new communications director will be Liran Dan.

The news of Hendel’s resignation came two days after Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Natan Eshel, stepped down after admitting misconduct towards a younger female staff member.

Hendel’s departure has been widely linked to the so-called Eshel affair which came to light after he and two other senior figures, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser and Military Secretary Yohanan Locker, filed a complaint with the attorney general alleging Eshel had harassed a female staffer.

The three acted without informing Netanyahu of the suspicions and their complaint.

The move reportedly infuriated Netanyahu, who on Tuesday told the trio he had “lost confidence” in them over their not informing him of the incident, Israel’s main newspapers reported.

Shortly afterwards, Hendel tendered his resignation, sources at the bureau told the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, adding Hauser was also expected to resign “soon.”

Locker is also set to leave, although his move to a take up a new role within the military was pre-planned.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu said it was wrong that he had only learned about the charges against his chief of staff through the media.

“The right thing to do in any system in the case of a concern over a harassment is to immediately take it to the responsible authorities and to deal with it. That is precisely what I would have done in this case,” he told a news conference.

“What is wrong is that the head of the system, in this case the prime minister, does not know of such a central issue taking place in his own bureau for a month-and-a-half, and has to learn about it through the media,” he said.

The affair created “a difficult, painful and uncomfortable situation” in his office, Netanyahu added.

The latest resignation follows several other departures from the prime minister’s office in the past 14 months.

It also comes at a time of huge tension between Israel and Iran, with speculation rife that the premier and Defence Minister Ehud Barak are considering a pre-emptive strike on Tehran’s disputed nuclear facilities.

In December 2010, Hendel’s predecessor Nir Hefetz, announced his surprise resignation, saying he wanted to return to the private sector.

Two months later, national security adviser Uzi Arad also left, with reports suggesting he was axed over leaking information to the press. And during the summer, director general Eyal Gabbai also stepped down, citing exhaustion.

“What does it say about the day-to-day workings inside the prime minister’s office?” wondered a Jerusalem Post editorial a day after Eshel resigned.

“This is not just any office, Eshel was not just any boss, and these are not just any times.”