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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Diplomatic turf war grips Israel
Judy Nir-Moses Shalom, the foreign minister's wife, is at the centre of the row
The foreign minister's wife, Judy, appears to be central in the dispute
Israel's two top diplomats are locked in an uncivil row involving their wives, Madonna and a photo opportunity.

The country's civil service commission is now investigating actions by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Danny Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the US.

Mr Shalom is said to have closed an embassy job after his wife did not meet Madonna, while Mr Ayalon is accused of trying to deflect scrutiny of his wife.

Analysts say the spat shows up rivalry over who controls the key US role.

Mr Ayalon is known to be close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but theoretically should report to Mr Shalom.

Opportunity missed

Israeli media suggest the situation became heated when the foreign minister's wife, Judy Nir Moses Shalom, blamed the embassy in Washington for not securing a photo opportunity with Madonna during the US pop star's Kabbalah pilgrimage to Israel last September.

Madonna at tomb of Kabbalah Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag
Madonna tried to avoid politics on a trip to study Jewish mysticism

Mrs Shalom, a TV presenter, was said to be so outraged at the perceived slight that she demanded the ambassador's personal secretary, Liran Petersil, be sacked.

After Mr Ayalon refused, Mr Shalom's foreign ministry cancelled the aide's position entirely, reports say.

The ambassador accused Mr Shalom of interference and is reported to possess taped telephone conversations with foreign ministry staff allegedly proving Mrs Shalom's role in the affair.

But Mr Ayalon is facing his own detractors. Sources at the foreign ministry suggest his complaints are meant to divert attention from an investigation into his wife, Anne, who is alleged to have verbally abused embassy staff.

On Monday, Mr Shalom was reported to have decided to recall Mr Ayalon.

"Shalom has lost confidence in Ayalon, and can no longer work with him," sources close to the foreign minister are quoted as saying.

But any recall could yet be blocked by the prime minister.

The row has been reported with relish by Israeli newspapers, while editorials have decried the negative light in which it shows the country's diplomacy.

An editorial in Tuesday's Haaretz says the dispute shows the necessity of removing the ambiguity over who runs Israel's relations with the US.

It suggested allowing the ambassador to report directly to the prime minister.

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