Analysis / The Return of the Nightmare

What has not yet happened in this election campaign? We've had the big bang that shook up Israeli politics; the two tribal elders' departure from their mother-parties; the prime minister's stroke and catheterization (tomorrow). And then yesterday, another wild card was laid on the table. Exactly three years after the Cyril Kern affair first broke, now, like a nightmare, it is back again to terrify Ariel Sharon and his advisors on the eve of what appears to be his third great electoral victory. How much will this card impact the election? That's the three-million-dollar question.

The new development comes at a problematic time for Sharon. His son Omri resigned from the Knesset yesterday following his conviction on illegal campaign funding, with the penalty to be decided in the coming weeks. If, in addition, the Cyril Kern affair (and as of yesterday the Schlaff brothers) once again stars in the media, and worse, in the courts and the interrogation rooms, it might hurt Sharon and his party. How badly is hard to gauge. The loss of three or four seats to Shinui or Labor will not be a mortal blow. To be re-elected prime minister, he only has to head the largest party. Even if he loses 10 seats, all the polls indicate that Kadima will still lead and Sharon will still be invited to form the government.

Something very serious has to happen, such as the police recommendation to bring him to trial, clearly incriminating evidence that he knew everything, or something - not medical, but legal - that calls into question his ability to govern.

The scoop last night on Channel 10 by Baruch Kra, who uncovered the original affair, must have made Amir Peretz and Yosef Lapid smile broadly. Maybe this will get us out of the hole we are in, they must have mumbled. Perhaps. The headlines three years ago were similar, and then Sharon won his greatest victory. His adviser, Arthur Finkelstein, was credited with saying "the public prefers a corrupt man to an idiot." If so, perhaps the story was leaked to Kra by Sharon's camp.