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An Israeli minister came out against the stringent security measures around government officials.

Ami Ayalon, a minister without portfolio and a former Shin Bet security chief, wrote to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urging that bodyguards be assigned only to top Cabinet officials.

Some junior Israeli ministers have one or more bodyguards, a precaution that costs Israeli taxpayers approximately $20 million a year.

“These sweeping measures carry a hefty price and cause real harm to Israel’s democratic image,” Ayalon said in his letter, which was leaked to the press.

Jerusalem officials said the government would defer to the Shin Bet, which instituted strict security on Cabinet members following the 2001 assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi by Palestinian terrorists.

Ayalon’s letter came as the newspaper Ma’ariv revealed that Olmert’s offices are being fortified against possible missile attacks based on recent intelligence warnings.

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