- - Thursday, November 17, 2011

JERUSALEM Israel’s tough-talking foreign minister is taking on his most formidable opponent yet - the Jewish state’s spy service, Mossad.

Avigdor Lieberman has ordered the Foreign Ministry to cut its ties with Mossad, which he says is trespassing on the ministry’s turf abroad while refusing to share any intelligence material.

The practical effect of Mr. Lieberman’s order was not immediately clear.

The Foreign Ministry provides numerous services to Mossad agents, including office space, diplomatic passports, transfer payments through diplomatic pouches and school enrollment for children of Mossad personnel abroad.

Mr. Lieberman’s unprecedented order was prompted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to send recently retired Mossad official David Meidan to Turkey to revive relations with that country, according to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot.

Turkey angrily scaled back diplomatic and trade relations with Israel two months ago, after the Jewish state refused to apologize for killing nine Turkish activists in a flotilla trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip last year.

Mr. Meidan was in charge of the negotiations that brought an agreement last month to exchange captured Israeli Army Staff Sgt. Gilad Schalit for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Relations between the Foreign Ministry and Mossad are also strained in other areas.

Mossad personnel reportedly receive considerably higher salaries. Its agents have established secret contact with officials of some Arab nations and other countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel. They also maintain links outside of normal channels with officials in countries that have diplomatic ties with Israel.

The intelligence agency receives copies of dispatches sent to Jerusalem by diplomats abroad, but the foreign ministry has no regular access to assessments or information coming from Mossad.

Mr. Lieberman ordered that Mossad be denied access to diplomatic dispatches.

“The Mossad just takes from us sensitive information but isn’t prepared to offer us anything,” said a foreign ministry official, who asked not to be identified.

“In some cases, they operate behind the backs of Israeli diplomats abroad and harm their standing. We have to put an end to this.”

The assassination of a senior Hamas terrorist, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in a Dubai hotel last year, ostensibly by a large Mossad team, drew condemnation from countries whose passports were used in the operations. However, Israeli ambassadors in those countries had to answer for an operation they knew nothing about.

A senior ministry official, Yaacov Livneh, head of the Euro-Asia Department, said this week that “unprofessional and irresponsible behavior” by Mossad officials who interfere in areas of Foreign Ministry responsibility harm Israel’s national interests.

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