Holyland or Hollywood?
If the scenario envisioned yesterday by Ehud Olmert's attorney Eli Zohar does indeed come to fruition and his client is arrested, this would not only represent the first time that a former prime minister of Israel is placed in police custody - it would also mark the first time that an individual who enjoys the protection of bodyguards is placed under arrest. The Shin Bet security service's bodyguard unit, the Israel Police, the Israel Prison Service and the Justice Ministry have never girded for this possibility. When they were asked yesterday how such a scene would unfold, they gave a mumbled response.
The police and prison guards claimed that they were busy practicing drills designed to simulate an operation aimed at releasing a hostage. The Shin Bet, which was preoccupied with a different matter altogether yesterday, would not even venture a word about a possible Olmert arrest.
The scenario holds two possibilities. First, the individual surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards and who is currently abroad, returns to Israel and is arrested as part of a criminal investigation. The second possibility sees the individual surrounded by bodyguards remaining outside the country while trying to keep out of reach of the long arm of the law.
Ostensibly, this matter involves an individual who does not have the benefit of immunity from prosecution and is thus at risk of being placed under arrest. This is a man who once held a state position and who continues to enjoy (or tolerate, depending upon whom you ask) the protection even after losing his immunity as president, minister or member of Knesset.
If Benjamin Netanyahu, who once leaked the contents of a classified IDF document in a manner that aided the Syrian enemy - which he did by releasing the "Shtauber document" in 1995 which was aimed at sabotaging the talks between then IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and his Syrian counterpart, Hikmat Shihabi - committed the same act as a private citizen rather than a Knesset member who is protected by the umbrella of parliamentary immunity, he would, by the standards of the Shin Bet and the state prosecutor's office, have to face charges for aggravated espionage. There's a good chance he would also be arrested, much like a journalist. As it turned out, Netanyahu was exempt from all suspicion. Then-attorney general Michael Ben-Yair preemptively ruled out an investigation against him.
On the other hand, a former prime minister, like Netanyahu following his election loss and resignation from the Knesset in 1999 until his return to the government in 2002, or Olmert since March 2009, has bodyguard protection but he does not have immunity from prosecution. In the first year after the premier steps down investigations against a former prime minister that center on alleged crimes committed during his term in office are subject to approval by the attorney general. Yet even this does not suffice in granting him immunity from arrest.
Those who investigated Olmert during his tenure as premier came to his home to conduct questioning. Now Olmert needs to appear at their behest, when he is sought for questioning, irrespective of the fact that a trial based on completed investigations is being conducted against him at the same time.
A prominent figure who is accorded the protection of bodyguards yet does not have immunity and is summoned to appear for police questioning is at risk of being arrested if he refuses to show. That individual can also be arrested during the course of the questioning, if the investigators see fit. It could be a simple, run-of-the-mill arrest, whereby the person is held in a cell run by the IPS. The individual could also be confined to house arrest after relinquishing his passport and signing a guarantee.
A senior state official was asked yesterday to give his opinion on the fusion between Holyland and Hollywood. To his dismay, reality conquers the imagination. "In Hollywood, you leave the movie theater after two hours," he said. "Here, the movie does not end."