Israel Prison Service Considering Special Wing for Olmert

The former prime minister 'is a very senior figure; we all know that terror activists in the Arab world would want to hurt him,' senior prison service official says.

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert waits for a verdict in Jerusalem's District Court on Monday, March 30, 2015.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert waits for a verdict in Jerusalem's District Court on Monday, March 30, 2015.Credit: AP
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The Israel Prison Service has begun consulting with the Shin Bet to determine how best to keep former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert safe when he begins his prison sentence for corruption in September or possibly later.

Olmert, already facing a six-year prison term after being convicted in May on two counts of bribery in the Holyland real estate corruption case, was found guilty in a separate case on Monday of unlawfully accepting payments from a U.S. businessman.

But while it’s corruption that concerns the courts, the security agencies are far more worried about an attempt to assassinate Olmert than they are about fellow convicts trying to blackmail the former prime minister.

“He is a very senior figure; we all know that terror activists in the Arab world would want to hurt him,” a senior prison service official said. “It’s the same prime minister who launched the Second Lebanon War and who was in office at the time of the assassination of [Hezbollah leader] Imad Mughniyeh. Many people have reasons to hurt him.”

That is presumably the reason Olmert is not expected be assigned to an open wing, together with Arab prisoners.

At present the only prison wing without Arab inmates is the Jewish religious wing, which has very strict rules: Its residents rise at 4:45 A.M. to pray, after which they settle in for a day of prayer and religious study that ends at 10 P.M., when the cell doors are locked. This wing is also a no-television zone.

After a sentencing hearing in May, Olmert is scheduled to enter prison in September, but corrections agency officials say it will likely be another year before he is incarcerated.

The prison official said no specific facility has been allocated to Olmert but that the plan is to create a compound within whichever prison Olmert will be sent to. He did not rule out the possibility that all or some of Olmert’s fellow convicts from the Holyland trial would be placed in the same area.

Another option under discussion is the separate, ground-floor wing of Ayalon Prison in Ramle. This compound is where Ben Zygier, the Mossad agent known as “Prisoner X” was held, and it has a private exercise yard. If this option is chosen, Olmert’s next-cell neighbor could be crime boss Ze’ev Rosenstein.

Once he lands behind bars, Olmert will probably be guarded by a special unit of the Israel Prison Service that will be trained for the task. In special circumstances, the Shin Bet security service or the prison service’s own Masada unit may step in if, for instance, it receives intelligence indicating that he is under threat.

Olmert will also need special arrangements in his cell, such as security cameras and panic buttons, the prison service official said. And then there’s the logistical difficulty of seeing the doctor.

“He won’t be entering as a young man,” the official said. “He’ll need occasional medical care. In prison, the doctor doesn’t come to the cells, the prisoners go to him, and we’ll have to figure out how to do it without putting Olmert in danger.”

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