A Chain of Investigations / Slow Torture for Olmert

If the state prosecution is to be believed, this is only the beginning; the investigation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Bank Leumi sale affair is a harbinger of things to come. Later on, the prosecution will decide on other investigations, like that of the Investment Center and the Small Business Authority. Investigation after investigation, blow after blow, drop after drop - just like Chinese water torture. That's what Olmert can expect from the prosecution in the next few months.

Every job Olmert had in the last few years carries with it its own scandal, its own investigation. His current position has also given rise to a kind of scandal - the second Lebanon war, which is now being investigated by the Winograd Committee.

Olmert is experienced, tough and level-headed, but even his diminishing number of admirers wonder how a person who has one of the most pressured jobs in the world can continue to function while being buried up to the neck in criminal probes. Does he have enough intellectual and emotional availability to cope with the Iranian threat, with the problem of Hamas in Gaza, with Hezbollah's renewed strength in the north? The wonder at his stamina is compounded when his political problems are added to this list, such as the destruction of his party and his personal drop in the polls.

Man of steel

Those who know Olmert well will say that he is made of steel, that he doesn't get panicked or depressed, that he is convinced these investigations won't yield anything - other than the headlines that will continue to pursue him.

Even if the investigations come to nought, as happened with Olmert's three immediate predecessors, they will darken Olmert's term, will gnaw away at Olmert and his supporters until they draw blood.

The political system is in a period of waiting: waiting for the ruling on Haim Ramon, for the Winograd panel's interim conclusions - and waiting for the results of one or more investigations of Olmert. If politicians begin to feel that Olmert could face an indictment - which would signal his resignation and lead to the toppling of the entire government - this could affect the leadership race within Kadima, the possibility that Olmert will be replaced by other faction members and the chances that the next Labor leader will join the coalition after the party's May primaries. Everything will be up for grabs.

In any case, we must remember that in order to indict a sitting prime minister over criminal offenses, the prosecution must have unequivocal, airtight and comprehensive evidence that brooks no questions - and for that there is still a long way to go.