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Lieberman taps Franklin case diplomat for top slot

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Avigdor Lieberman asked an Israeli diplomat involved in a Pentagon classified leaks case to be his chief of staff.

Lieberman, the foreign minister in the new Benjamin Netanyahu government, has asked Naor Gilon to take the top career slot at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, JTA has learned, effectively making Gilon his right hand man.

Gilon must clear a Foreign Ministry admissions committee before the announcement is formal, a process that has been delayed by the Passover holiday.

Gilon, then the political officer at Israel’s Washington embassy, allegedly met multiple times between 2002 and 2005 with Lawrence Franklin, a mid-level Iran analyst at the Pentagon who has since pleaded guilty in the case. The men allegedly discussed Iran’s nuclear program and its disruptive role in Iraq.

Franklin’s indictment alleges that Gilon did minor favors for Franklin and on at least one occasion the two men discussed classified information.

Franklin also allegedly relayed information to Gilon through Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He has resisted requests to testify in their defense.

Gilon served three years in his slot, and returned to Israel in the summer of 2005, a year after the Franklin case became public. Israeli officials at the time insisted that his term was not cut short – diplomatic stints routinely vary between three and five years – and that there were no U.S. pressures to remove him.

Another Israeli official with a lesser involvement in the AIPAC/Pentagon leaks case, Uzi Arad, is slated to be Netanyahu’s national security adviser. Arad was denied entry to the United States two years ago, reportedly because of his involvement in the case; that status was removed in recent weeks when it became clear Netanyahu would hire him for a top job.

It’s not clear what Gilon’s current status is, although he has returned to Washington in recent years as a member of the Israeli team in the U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue. As chief of staff, he would be expected to accompany Lieberman on Washington visits.

Gilon’s boss during his stint in Washington was Ambassador Danny Ayalon, currently the deputy foreign minister and a member of the Yisrael Beitenu Party led by Lieberman.

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