ANALYSIS / Olmert Can't Recover From Latest Police Interrogation

Prime Minister is a step away from being indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and perhaps bribe-taking.

At noon, as the white cars with the blue flashing lights sail on, Ehud Olmert tenure as prime minister is over. Officially, certain procedures will still be required for an orderly transfer of government, but for all practical purposes Olmert's tenure ends Friday morning. A jaded public is no longer moved by these interrogations: It's hot, it's boring, again those shots of the police arriving at the Prime Minister's Residence to interview him.

But make no mistake: Olmert will not be able to recover from this interrogation and from the public response to its contents, once they are revealed. Toward evening the walls will begin to shake. Reports of Olmert's interrogation will mean expediting the pace of Olmert's ouster, from weeks to hours.

Two years ago today, on the eve of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser's abduction on the Lebanese border, Olmert visited Israel Defense Forces headquarters and heard surveys filled with satisfaction. But one of the generals, Planning Division head Yitzhak Harel, warned him that processes over previous years had created "a hollow army." Friday, as Brig. Gen. Shlomi Ayalon and his team prepare to interrogate Olmert, it must be said that in the Olmert case the police have proved not to be hollow. Their conduct over the past two months made up for earlier embarrassments and mishaps. In their handling of the Olmert case the Israel Police succeeded in positioning itself as a professional organization that does not show favoritism even when the suspect holds the top job in the country.

Preparations by Ayalon's team of investigators are shrouded in secrecy, as though they are safeguarding strategic surprises - affairs yet unknown - and not just tactical surprises from the realm of envelopes. It is very possible that Olmert prepared well for the last war, utterly blind to the real threat impending in another sector.

If this turns out to be the case, the investigators and State Prosecutor's Office will be able to notch up an immense achievement. This past week Olmert, his lawyers and spokesmen exhausted their energy on Talansky's cross-examination, on the legal inquiries in the United States, and on scandalous verbal sparring, without breaching the field-security wall of the police and prosecution. As on the eve of his first interrogation two months ago, Olmert will fail to know what questions are about to hit him and generate credible answers to them. The interrogators possess a fundamental, incriminating version, and Olmert will have to work hard to contradict it. He is a step away from an indictment on offenses of fraud, aggravated breach of trust, and maybe also bribe-taking.

The envelopes case has been compared to a table with three legs - Morris Talansky, Shula Zaken, and Uri Messer. Even if each leg is slightly weakened, they would still remain solid enough together to support the case. So it will be useless to Olmert if the cross-examination finds that Talansky gave him only four envelopes in three places and not eight envelopes in five places. His problem this morning is that he might discover that the investigators are bringing into his official residence another table, or tables; that in this battle, Talansky is not alone.

The moment of truth has arrived for Olmert, and for Israeli society and the political system which unthinkingly raised him up to the prime ministership and are about to bring him down.