JERUSALEM – Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has surrounded himself with battle-tested political veterans to handle his two-front war — putting together a coalition government and calming world concerns about his hawkish policies.
But unlike predecessor Ehud Barak's team, Sharon's people are experts in political and media battles, not military ones.
Barak, a former chief of staff of the Israeli army, ran into immediate trouble after his election in May, 1999, by picking ex-army buddies as his closest advisers.
From the beginning, they were caught up in turf battles with professionals from Barak's Labor party.
Sharon, too, had a long military career, but the only prominent ex-army officer on his staff is adviser Raanan Gissin, whose military specialty was media relations, not battlefield strategy.
Other key members of Sharon's team are political adviser Eyal Arad, spokeswoman Odelia Carmon, party director Uri Shani and lawmaker Reuven Rivlin, who are expected to continue in positions of influence after Sharon's government takes office.
Sharon's son Omri is the prime minister-elect's closest adviser, according to insiders. Omri Sharon, a bald, portly younger version of his father, went to Vienna before the election to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's chief economic adviser. Omri Sharon is a veteran back room wheeler-dealer in Sharon's Likud party.
However, the father-and-son team might have to split when Sharon takes power. Israeli regulations don't allow a prime minister to hire members of his immediate family for his staff.
Arad, a political strategist, ran Sharon's election campaign. A slender, gray-haired operative who tends toward jeans and work shirts, Arad handled Benjamin Netanyahu's successful election campaign in 1996 but took a fall with candidate Yitzhak Mordechai in 1999. Mordechai dropped out of the race after his support plummeted into single figures.
Gissin, who holds a Ph.D. in public policy from Syracuse University, stood at Sharon's right shoulder as the newly elected candidate delivered his victory speech. Gissin, who advises Sharon on public appearances and serves as foreign media spokesman, speaks both Hebrew and English in the same rapid-fire bursts.
"The Israeli people are tired of being suckers," Gissin said in explaining Sharon's victory over Barak, who offered concessions to the Palestinians while they carried out attacks against Israelis.
Odelia Carmon, a carefully coifed public relations professional, joined Sharon after several years as media adviser to David Levy, who served as Barak's foreign minister before resigning over Barak's proposed concessions to the Palestinians. She deals with local reporters.
Shani, a close confidant, was expected to be named head of Sharon's bureau of advisers. However, in 1997, he was convicted on a count of breach of trust. His record may keep him on the sidelines.
Rivlin, the Likud parliamentary faction chief, is Sharon's closest ally there. Known for his sense of humor and mastery of legislative tactics, Rivlin might be in line for a Cabinet post, unless Sharon decides that he is more valuable shepherding government initiatives through Parliament.