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Last Sunday, the Supreme Court justices pricked up their ears upon hearing the sharp remark made by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch to attorney Ran Nazri, the aide to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz. The subject was the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger. Mazuz had investigated suspicions concerning the rabbi and decided to close the case, citing a low likelihood of conviction. But he also recommended that the rabbi resign, and if he did not, a dismissal process ought to begin. Beinisch did not like these contortions. Mazuz, she said to Nazri, "put the cart before the horse" - and not for the first time. "Your office did the same thing to Mizrahi."

Beinisch was referring, presumably (her office declined to comment on the matter), to a move by Mazuz a little over two years ago, with Nazri working with him at the time, to get Major General Moshe Mizrahi removed as head of the Police Investigations Branch. The move had begun to take shape under Mazuz's predecessor, Elyakim Rubinstein, with the aid of the person who then headed the Justice Ministry's Police Investigation Unit (known by the Hebrew acronym Mahash), Eran Shendar (the current State Prosecutor). Following Shendar's report, Rubinstein determined that there was not sufficient evidence to try Mizrahi on criminal or disciplinary charges in the eavesdropping affair. Shlomo Aharonishki, the Police Commissioner at the time, who had given Mizrahi a hearing, did no more than scold Mizrahi, but later, Minister Gideon Ezra did remove Mizrahi from the Police Investigations Branch, with Mazuz's blessing.

This was part of a broader campaign to suppress those fighting governmental corruption - a group that included Mizrahi, then-State Prosecutor Edna Arbel and Brigadier General Miri Golan, the head of the National Fraud Unit. A few weeks after Arbel, along with Rubinstein, was appointed to the Supreme Court, Mazuz overturned her recommendation in the Greek Island case, involving Ariel Sharon, with the encouragement of the head of the International Crime Investigations Unit (known as Yahbal), Yohanan Danino. The year 2004 proved to be a turning point: Arbel sits quiet on the Supreme Court, Mizrahi is removed from investigations, Golan learns that her promised promotion to Major General will not be forthcoming, and meanwhile, the other group is celebrating: Mazuz is made attorney general, Shendar is state prosecutor, Danino becomes a Major General and is on his way to heading the Investigations Department, which is subsequently merged with the Intelligence department to become the Investigations and Intelligence Department (known as Aham).

An Israeli who was away for the last few years without access to information and only learned this week of the latest criminal investigations would reel in disbelief to see how the Arbel-Mizrahi-Golan constellation has faded and how that of Mazuz-Shendar-Danino has risen. Those overzealous pursuers of elected figures are gone, but their opposite number, once the exemplars of moderation and restraint in the law enforcement system, are now acting just like them. The revolution has succeeded, but the revolutionaries have toned down the proclamations and reverted to the ways of the old regime. It almost seems like, before leaving their offices, Arbel, Mizrahi and Golan must have planted mysterious viruses that have infected their successors.

The 2007 models

Mizrahi and Golan can only laugh bitterly now. The suspects of their time, chief among them Ehud Olmert, are back for another round in the interrogation rooms. About a decade ago, Olmert was tried in the Likud receipts affair, but even after his acquittal, he did not shed his status as an eternal suspect, which continued in the Greek Island affair. Sharon was the chief suspect in that one (and he, too, was no stranger to interrogations at that point, after the Ben-Gal and Russian natural gas affair in the late 1990s), and Olmert, the rival whom at the time Sharon accused of "terrible things," came second to him in the suspect hierarchy. Now Olmert is the top suspect and his political enabler, Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson, has claimed the second spot.

The obvious question is whether Mazuz, Shendar and Danino have really changed on the job, from their more lenient 2004 versions to the more stringent 2007 models? Is what was forgiven Sharon, also with the blessing of the Supreme Court under Aharon Barak's presidency, not forgiven Olmert, when Mazuz knows that decisions to close cases will be examined by a Supreme Court that includes Beinisch and Arbel, among others? Or is it, and this is an approach particularly credited to Danino, that the evidentiary material and the strength of cases is only determined in the end, and therefore one mustn't take so much heed of the atmosphere, but rather only of the solidity of the information?

The brilliant epiphany of Aryeh Deri and friends a decade ago was the understanding that people do not only create the laws in the Knesset, they also enforce them in the police, the State Prosecutor's Office and the office of the Attorney General. People can be appointed, dismissed, tempted, intimidated and moved in various directions. One night in Shanghai in October 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin became furious over State Prosecutor Beinisch's stubborn refusal to go easy on public figures close to him. "Let her get out of there and go to the Supreme Court already," Rabin remarked with typical gruff abandon, to an audience that included Rubinstein as well as Shimon Sheves, who some years later was convicted of fraud and breach of trust.

This was a mistaken, short-sighted calculation. Arbel picked up right where Beinisch left off, but the efforts at corruption didn't cease, as seen in the attorney general appointment that lasted just one day (Roni Bar-On, perhaps soon to be justice minister) and in attempts to undermine enforcers of the law.

Too many prime ministers and government ministers, if placed at a social event midway between convicted moguls on the one hand and the police who investigated them and prosecutors who tried them on the other, would gravitate toward the side of wealth and criminal activity. The message was clear.

But just as the appointment of the head of an investigation team, the head of a police division, a police commissioner, a state prosecutor or attorney general can have a favorable effect on the fate of a particular case, the opposite is also true, as politicians have come to discover: The determination of individuals in key, though not necessarily senior, positions, can upset the best-laid plans. The system just isn't equipped to compel all its members, from the most senior to the most junior, to unanimously turn a blind eye to the wrongdoings of the powerful.

A willing listener

Take, for instance, the Bank Leumi privatization case, the first in the new series of Olmert files (the old series included the Bank of North America, the Likud receipts and the Greek Island). For the case to have reached its fateful point this week, with Shendar's announcement of the launching of a criminal probe, four factors had to come into play: credible complainants and witnesses from the accountant general's office of the Finance Ministry; skilled workers and administrators in the State Comptroller's office; determined attorneys in the State Prosecutor's office; and experienced investigators on the National Fraud Investigation Unit examination team.

The Olmert camp is trying, of course, to portray the accountant general, Yaron Zelekha, as unreliable, or as a mole acting at the behest of Benjamin Netanyahu. This is a contemptuous ploy. Zelekha is only the most senior and important of about a dozen employees of the department, who have attested to Olmert's attempt to influence the tender for the bank's privatization.

There will be hardly any dispute over the facts in the Bank Leumi case. The legal battle will be waged over the question of motive, with Olmert's attorneys, Eli Zohar and Ro'i Belcher, seeking to claim that Olmert acted in good faith and to undermine the prosecution's confidence in the chances of conviction. That will be the end of the road, but for the whole thing to get started, Zelekha, Deputy Accountant General Yuval Bronstein and their colleagues had to find a willing listener in the State Comptroller's office. There, too, as expected, Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has been accused of going overboard.

For ministers, Knesset members and local authority heads (who are just as tainted by corruption as the central government), it's convenient to have the public forget that its elected officials are given a trust that they are not supposed to violate for the sake of their personal needs, and that slanting a tender in a patron's favor, or inventing new jobs out of thin air in return for support in the party councils amounts to a breach of trust just as blatant as taking public funds and putting them to personal use.

The real game

The criminal inquiries of Olmert, Hirschson and company are currently providing the police with an opportunity to rinse off the mud of the Zeiler Committee, the Benny Sela escape and the stumbles in the Tair Rada murder investigation. It's the blue shirts against the white collars - this is the real game. Commissioner Moshe Karadi, who hasn't lost his sense of humor in two and a half jam-packed years on the job, sat in the drab headquarters of the Romanian police in Bucharest this week and explained to his host, Police Commissioner Dan-Valentin Fatuloiu, the structure and tasks of the Israel Police. Just as Fatuloiu was commenting on how fortunate he was not to have the Border Police and its gendarmerie under his command, Karadi got a phone call from Jerusalem informing him that his officers are being asked to investigate the prime minister. Such a thing would never happen in Romania, the two men agreed.

About a month ago, the police general command staff held a simulation exercise, entitled "Reality and Imagination," at the National Security College. In the exercise, they dealt with the scenario of another war this summer, one that would include rockets fired at the home front. The district commanders suggested amending the law so that the task of protecting the home front would fall on the police.

Karadi, his deputy Benny Kaniak, Aham chief Danino and another major general from the national headquarters were opposed. They feared that the police would stagger under the extra burden and not be able to keep up with its fundamental mission of fighting crime and corruption.

The national headquarters has three investigative units: The National Fraud Investigation Unit, now under the command of Brigadier General Shlomi Ayalon, with about 180 investigators and limited resources; Yahbal, under the command of Brigadier General Amihai Shai, which comprises about 240 investigators who deal with the crime organizations and with security investigations in collaboration with the Shin Bet; and the Economic Crimes Investigation Unit, known as Yakal, with about 400 officers and policemen, under the command of Brigadier General Yoav Segalovitch, who will soon become Danino's chief of staff and be replaced by Brigadier General David Mansur. There is also a fourth unit dealing with car theft and a department headquarters. About 1,200 police personnel in all. Most of the department's time is devoted to guiding investigators and intelligence personnel in the districts, sub-districts and police stations.

Karadi recently made a proposal: to merge the units into one combined and coherent system, "the seventh district" to be known by the Hebrew acronym Mehkar (Mahoz Hakirot Artzi - "National Investigations District") to be headed by a major general. His preferred candidate is the current Yahbal chief, Amihai Shai. It would be like an Israeli FBI, or a Shin Bet that deals with criminal cases, to make investigations more efficient. Other members of the command staff support the idea, including the previous Aham chief, Major General Dudi Cohen, as does Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter.

Danino, the current Aham chief, is not keen on the idea. It would not impact his status as the police liaison with the attorney general and the state prosecutor, but it would make him a staff officer, the builder of a force who does not command his units. A power struggle is to be expected, with positions within it being influenced by the desire of district commanders to limit the power of a potential contender for the job of police commissioner.

Karadi likes to point out that the police commissioner runs the police and the Aham chief runs the investigations. In other words, he is kept up to date on sensitive investigations as per his authority (unlike the minister, who is prohibited from intervening and, for the most part, also from knowing about them), but does not get involved in them. Danino is the head of the "coordinating committee" between the police, the State Prosecutor, the Tax Authority, the Antitrust Authority and the Israel Money Laundering Prohibition Authority (IMPA). The committee meets every month to discuss ways to improve inter-office coordination. It is supposed to establish and staff a joint intelligence center, computer-alongside-computer, in which the officers on duty can provide immediate assistance to investigators.

The police database contains information accumulated in the intelligence and investigation units, including on cases that were closed or for which legal proceedings have concluded. Thus, for example, an investigator could type in "Ehud Olmert" and receive a printout noting his connections with David Appel, Shula Zaken and dozens of other moguls and wheeler-dealers: what Olmert said when he was interrogated in the 1990s, what Zaken said about him five years ago, which of the Likud activists worked for him and in return for what, under Hirschson's patronage. The professional test for the police, a test it failed in the Greek Island affair, will be in whether it makes full use of the material in the Olmert files.

An investigation may also begin outside the national units, as in the investigation of the Nili Foundation, which is linked to Hirschson (but not only it: the police are also curious about his involvement in the March of the Living organization), and was launched by the Tel Aviv district fraud division and taken from there to the National Fraud Investigation Unit.

That unit's commander, Ayalon, is now at the center of this storm. His colleagues describe him as a quiet, modest and professional officer who doesn't harbor grandiose ambitions and is not one to play organizational politics. Ayalon came to his post after representing the police in Germany, an assignment that mostly involved liaising with local police in the pursuit of drug gangs whose activity crossed borders. Israelis who lived in Berlin then and knew Ayalon say he can be counted on to do his job faithfully, without making any concessions to the powerful.

Golan, and Ayalon after her, did a fine job of leading the investigation into the Tax Authority. And they did not do it alone: Like Yahbal, Ayalon's unit boasts a generation of experienced investigators. Ayalon's deputy, Nahum Levy, who in recent years has been involved in complicated investigations of high-ranking politicians, practically grew up with some of those under investigation: When they were MKs, he was a superintendent; when they were ministers or mayors, he was a chief superintendent; they become prime ministers and he's a commander. He is not overly awed by them. The team that will investigate Olmert will also include Chief Superintendent Eran Kamin, who investigated the Ramon case.

Four years ago, Ayalon participated in one of the most pathetic chases by the law enforcement system against itself: the search for the source of the leak in the Greek Island investigation. Together with Shendar, the team head appointed by Rubinstein in the misguided hope of nabbing Mizrahi, Ayalon traveled to meet the media man N. or "Nesher" ("Eagle"), to obtain from him the document that would incriminate the leader; and together with the wife of Meni Mazuz, chief superintendent Elinoar Mazuz, he questioned attorney Liora Glatt-Berkovich.

Meni Mazuz (who closed Olmert's Greek Island file before doing the same for Sharon), Shendar, Ayalon and their colleagues then, unintentionally, damaged the effectiveness and fighting spirit of the police investigators. The Olmert files offer them a chance to atone for that, while Beinisch sits hovering in the background in the Supreme Court.