Text size

Police on Wednesday ended the final layer of secrecy surrounding the investigation into former MK Azmi Bishara, saying that he is suspected of treason and espionage, for allegedly having aided Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War in July and August 2006.

Bishara, the chairman of the Balad party, is suspected of having been in contact with Hezbollah intelligence agents during the 34-day conflict.

In an interview from Amman, Jordan, Bishara said Wednesday that he was a victim of political persecution.

"It is very clear they have a plot, he said. It's a classic manifestation of how the security establishment works in Israel when they target someone for political reasons."

A senior Shin Bet official told reporters earlier in the day that Bishara had had prolonged contact with Hezbollah members who were involved in gathering information on Israel.

Bishara allegedly provided "information, suggestions and recommendations," including censored material, to his contacts in Lebanon during the war.

The Shin Bet official said that Bishara was fully aware of the sensitivity of the information. According to the Shin Bet, he was given "missions" from Hezbollah, which he then carried out.

Bishara allegedly advised Hezbollah on the ramifications of firing missiles further south than Haifa. At the time, Hezbollah was debating whether to strike at targets deeper inside Israel. A few days later, missiles struck south of Haifa for the first time.

The former lawmaker is also suspected of helping Hezbollah with assessments regarding a possible Israeli assassination attempt on Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, as well as offering advice on waging psychological warfare against the Israelis.

Investigators in charge of the case said they had difficulty assessing the extent of the damage caused by Bishara's alleged actions.

Bishara had not been privy to classified material, and from the press briefing, it seemed that the information he passed to Hezbollah could have been obtained from open media sources in Israel. The Shin Bet rejects this assumption, however, claiming that Hezbollah saw a "strategic value" in Bishara's reports.

"Any intelligence body would be happy to receive intelligence from a lawmaker of an enemy state, especially during war," officials said.

Further suspicions

Bishara is also suspected of contact with foreign intelligence agents. Investigators refuse to say which country these agents were from, but that Bishara received large sums of money indirectly from them.

The sums, estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars, were transferred to Bishara via Jordan and from there to a Palestinian woman in East Jerusalem.

Police claim that Bishara did not declare these funds or explain from where they originated. It is unclear whether these funds were intended for Bishara or if he acted just as a courier.

The Shin Bet clarified that there are further serious suspicions against Bishara, which have yet to be made public as his departure from the country delayed the investigation. While the Shin Bet would prefer that Bishara return, they are of the opinion that he will not do so in the near future.

Reports of the investigation, whose details were initially under a strict court-imposed gag order, first emerged about a month ago. Bishara, who left Israel before the reports broke, has avoided returning, saying he fears he will not receive a fair trial.

He has been traveling in the Arab world, and resigned from the Knesset at the Israeli embassy in Cairo last month. He has denied all the allegations and accused police of conducting a witch hunt. He has vowed to return to Israel, but not said when he will do so.

Police, providing the first concrete details in the case after the lengthy gag order, said Bishara will be arrested immediately if he returns to Israel, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

According to the police and the Shin Bet security service, Bishara is accused of grave crimes against national security, and of aiding the enemy in wartime. He is believed to have secretly received hundreds of thousands of dollars via Jordan, without declaring the source of the money.

Partial details of the affair were released Wednesday afternoon, after the High Court lifted the gag order on the investigation.

Bishara was investigated twice by police on March 22 and 23, after which he went overseas. He told officers that he would return to Israel within days. His immunity as a then member of parliament made it impossible to stop him from leaving the country.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ordered Bishara to return to Israel and face the investigation by April 22. Bishara ignored the order, and on April 26 submitted his resignation via the Israeli embassy in Cairo. He is currently classified as 'pending investigation' by the police.

Office searchedBishara's deputy, MK Jamal Zahalka, said that he had been summoned to the Knesset on Monday because police wanted him to be present while they searched the former Balad MK's office.

Balad criticized the search, as did the Hadash faction.

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said, "I am very disturbed by the erosion of Knesset immunity and the immunity of its members."

Zahalka called the search "a provocation," and that sealing Bishara's office was illegal, as it had been done while Bishara was still a member of the Knesset.

Following Bishara's resignation, the Justice Ministry asked Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik to seal the office so it could be searched, and materials were confiscated.