Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his estranged former deputy, Danny Ayalon, clashed again on Wednesday as the former's corruption trial began its defense phase.
Lieberman is charged with fraud and breach of trust over his alleged efforts to promote former Ambassador Ze'ev Ben Aryeh, who in 2008, as Israel's envoy to Belarus, shared sensitive information with Lieberman on the Israel Police's correspondence with the Belarusian authorities surrounding the latter's business dealings abroad. Ben Aryeh was later convicted of passing on classified information to unauthorized individuals as part of a plea bargain.
Lieberman tried to discredit Ayalon's testimony from several months ago, during which the former deputy foreign minister said Lieberman had told him to appoint Ben Aryeh as ambassador to Latvia when the ministry's Appointments Committee convened (Ben Aryeh had completed his first ambassadorship by then). This allegedly took place a year after the incident in Belarus. According to Lieberman, Ayalon agreed to testify against him because the former minister had effectively ended Ayalon's Knesset re-election bid shortly before the Jan. 22 election by denying him a spot on the Yisrael Beytenu candidate list.
"Only after he was kicked out of the party's list did he have a recollection about what took place when he and I met [to discuss the ambassadorship in Latvia]; where was he during the previous two and a half years? Did he not testify that he was a law-abiding citizen nine separate times?" Lieberman said.
Lieberman stressed that he did not tell the Appointments Committee about his encounter with Ben Aryeh because that would have resulted in the former ambassador to Belarus being denied the new posting. "A 62-year-old man should not have his career end like that."
Lieberman further elaborated on the reasons Ayalon was given the boot. "Ayalon is a media addict, and for that reason I ordered that he be denied clearance for sensitive materials."
When Lieberman was asked whether he agreed with Ayalon's claim that the two maintained a cordial relationship despite the latter's testimony, Lieberman quipped, "I am not sure Ayalon is on Planet Earth."
Later on Wednesday, Ayalon reacted to Lieberman's attack. "Lieberman missed an opportunity to provide excuses for his actions; it seems that after realizing he had no convincing answers, he resorted to besmirching me," Ayalon told Israel Hayom. "There are good judges in Jerusalem, and they shall decide the matter."
"I acted in a transparent and responsible manner and I will continue doing so, as is customary in a democratic state. We are not in the Soviet Union."