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The unprecedented struggle that is - in full public view - ripping apart the highest echelons of the law enforcement regime in Israel, with the Attorney General versus the State Prosecutor, the Commissioner of Police and the Head of the Investigation Division, is rooted in the perpetual tension that exists in any organization - store, army, newspaper, state - between function and survival.

Natural, everyday functioning requires one type of efficiency, and survival requires an efficiency of a different sort. Centralized control and a chain of command is good for ordinary efficiency, for without it, order would disintegrate into chaos; but if the line of management does not at some point bisect a line of oversight, the system may fall victim to corruption or insanity, and will continue to obey - until it crashes - the nerve center that has gone wild and thrown itself into a spin. In order to save itself, the mechanism must include a device that triggers the ejection seat whenever existential danger is encountered.

The division of branches of government is insufficient, because the regime is pervious to penetration from above, with hostile agents possibly infiltrating and gaining control of one, two or even all three of the branches. At that point, democracy is simulated, or worse yet, is ruled by the mob and by organized crime. High-ranking officials in key positions of the various branches of government are liable to be sleeper agents planted ahead of time for this purpose, or who have been "acquired" in the course of their public service. If they have been corrupted or extorted, it is also possible that a criminal element might sell their secrets to another party, which would start, or continue, to "run" them.

The result is a slow coup that is imperceptible, as it does not involve armed troops taking over the presidential palace or masses swarming into the legislature in front of the world's cameras. The source of authority, the sovereign, is no longer the people, but rather someone who has under the table bought a judge, an official, a minister, a prime minister. Oversight mechanisms that are controlled by the crime may further increase the danger, but all it takes is passive mechanisms, which relate to their duty with flaccid forgiveness, when it is revealed that the boss has sinned.

The development of antibodies against hostile invasion appears on the task list of the Shin Bet and of the Israel Police's National Unit for Serious and International Crimes Investigations. The Shin Bet, according to the "vision" that graces the walls of its offices, is a "state organization that is entrusted with maintaining the security of the state, its institutions and its democratic regime from terror threats, espionage, subversion, sabotage and the disclosure of state secrets."

The aforementioned police unit is also assigned the vision of "leading the national struggle against phenomena of international organized crime and phenomena of nationwide serious crime, resolutely acting against attempts to undermine the foundations of law and order, and struggling to preserve the democratic and free nature of the State of Israel." This is no easy task, when the adversary is in Tehran and Ramallah. It is much more difficult when the suspicion hovers over the boss himself, the man who must ordinarily be obeyed, the man who determines the investigator's promotion.

Without question, the policeman and the Shin Bet agent, just like the lawmaker, judge, Knesset member and cabinet minister, are subject to the law. There can also be professional disagreement between various components of the system. Not long ago, the State Comptroller looked into the issue of police wiretapping. His representatives were disappointed to discover what they felt was insufficient correlation between (court-approved) wiretapping and the indictments brought against subjects who had been investigated; as if they were a bookkeeper at a newspaper who complained about a reporter who had coffee with 10 potential sources, but managed to produce only four news items and two articles from his meetings.

The regime and its constitutional structure are tested in crisis situations. Such a situation might have come about in the premiership after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, had he not been killed but had been wounded too seriously to function as prime minister. The 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in February 1967 following the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the swearing-in as president of his vice president, Lyndon Johnson, seemed to have been written by the author of a political thriller. Among other things, it lays the infrastructure for a constitutional overthrow of the president, and conversely, the counter-overthrow if a president is incapacitated (for example, Ronald Reagan, had he been stricken by Alzheimer's while in office).

The vice president would become acting president, with him and a majority of the cabinet members giving written declarations to the leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives in which they declare that the president is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." The president would be able to reassume his authorities if he sends Congressional leaders a written declaration denying his incapacity, but if the vice president and a majority of the cabinet members respond with written declarations stating the opposite, the two houses of Congress would convene to decide who is the legal occupant of the White House, and who is the invader.

With certain modifications mandated by the difference in regimes, this situation could ensue if the investigations of Ariel Sharon end in a murky legal and political situation, and he will be asked - but not told - to resign. The thought that Sharon's sudden readiness to brandish the charm of evacuation of settlements has something to do with this is not without merit.