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During the week that Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein published his view of the behavior of Commander Moshe Mizrahi, the evidentiary stage of the libel case brought by contractor David Appel against journalist Ayala Hasson over the Bar-On-Hebron affair came to an end. The proximity of these two events should serve as a useful reminder of what is on the line in the struggle to maintain the rule of law.

The Bar-On-Hebron affair had six protagonists: Benjamin Netanyahu, then prime minister; Tzachi Hanegbi, then justice minister; Avigdor Lieberman, then director general of the Prime Minister's Office; Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri; contractor David Appel; and attorney Ronnie Bar-On. Six people have been linked to the wiretapping transcriptions: Hanegbi, Lieberman, Michael Gorlovsky (who was Lieberman's aide at the time and is now an MK), Appel, Stanislav Yazamski, a former officer from the international fraud squad, and Commander Moshe Mizrahi, head of the police investigations unit.

The plot of the Bar-On-Hebron affair was summed up in a opinion submitted by Rubinstein and State Prosecutor Edna Arbel in April 1997. The main points: the six protagonists colluded to get Bar-On appointed attorney general, on the assumption that he would help Aryeh Deri out of the legal proceedings against him. Because of this illegal conspiracy, the police recommended charging Netanyahu, Hanegbi, Lieberman and Deri, and closing the cases against Bar-On and Appel, due to insufficient evidence. Rubinstein and Arbel only accepted police recommendations that related to Deri, ruling there was not enough evidence to try the others. They did, however, describe their behavior in the strongest terms.

These legal rulings have exposed the immense difficulty facing the legal establishment when it came to translating the harsh findings of a police investigation of senior politicians into the language of legal evidence. Furthermore, during the Deri investigation, it became clear he had an informer, who kept him abreast of the progress of the investigation. That said, the reality revealed by the opinions left little room for doubt: a coalition of capital and power, joining forces to desecrate the rule of law's holy of holies, the tradition of attorney general.

In the Mizrahi affair, the pattern repeats itself: he investigated suspicions of alleged conspiracy between criminal elements from the former Soviet Union with well-known public figures in Israel. To this end, Mizrahi was given permission to listen in on the telephone calls of Lieberman, Gorlovsky and Appel. During the wiretapping, there was a mistake in judgment (according to the hard-liners; others would say there was no misjudgment): a small part of the transcriptions and the recordings, which should have been destroyed, remained in Mizrahi's safe. Within Mizrahi's own unit hid a Fifth Column, by the name of Stanislav Yazamski, who kept a copy of the tape for himself. Yazamski made allegedly extortive use of the copy, and exposed Mizrahi's controversial practice in a manner that places a shadow on the officer's integrity. In this affair, too, Rubinstein and Arbel wrote opinions, but this time, they were contradictory. She, together with two senior state prosecutors, views Mizrahi as a dedicated officer who should be left alone; he believes Mizrahi acted improperly and should be punished, "even as much as removing him from office." The person with the final say on any such decision is Hanegbi.

The two opinions once again demonstrate how difficult it is to obtain evidence to back up suspicions where those involved are either tycoons or in power.

This case also exposes the existence of moles in the investigating teams, who update the suspects on the course of the probe. From memos written by the three prosecutors, one can detect a tone of distress and urgency: they warn of the danger to the rule of law. And what does Rubinstein do? He decides to sign an immunity deal with Yazamski.

Just as there was an attempt in the Bar-On-Hebron affair to conquer the post of attorney general for the benefit of a criminal, it now appears the Mizrahi affair was an attempt to castrate the police's investigations unit. God only knows where Rubinstein - a fair, sharp and likable man - lost his ability to differentiate between what is important and what is not.