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Report: Top aide to Israeli prime minister resigns

JERUSALEM (AP) – The prime minister’s top spokesman has resigned six months into the job, Israeli media reported Wednesday, injecting new turmoil into Benjamin Netanyahu’s troubled office shortly before an important White House visit.

Israeli newspapers, TV and radio stations reported that Yoaz Hendel quit after Netanyahu criticized the way he handled suspicions against the prime minister’s chief of staff, Natan Eshel, who was forced out this week over a sexual harassment scandal.

In an apparent attempt to protect Netanyahu, Hendel and two other staffers in the Israeli leader’s office tried to handle the harassment affair without involving the prime minister. According to the reports, that angered Netanyahu, who told his aides he felt betrayed.

Hendel resigned, just six months into the job. Another of the staffers involved, military secretary Yohanan Locker was already due to take another job, the media said. It was not clear whether the third staffer, Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser, would stay on.

There was no comment from the prime minister’s office, which has seen frequent personnel changes.

According to Israel Radio, 12 people have left Netanyahu’s office since he took power less than three years ago.

On Sunday, his chief of staff, Eshel, accepted a plea bargain acknowledging he sexually harassed a female employee by photographing her, reading her private e-mails and other “unbefitting and unacceptable” conduct.

He is to step aside by the end of the month and will be banned from public service.

The chaos in the Israeli leader’s office comes at a delicate time. Netanyahu is due to pay a White House visit in early March, amid unconfirmed reports that Israel is seriously weighing a military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.

The U.S. has opposed such a strike, seeking to give sanctions more time to pressure Iran to account for its nuclear ambitions.

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