Ehud Olmert: Police Probe Undermined Peace Deal With Palestinians

Former PM claims state prosecution has 'agenda' against him, saying had not been forced to step down, may have secured peace agreement with Palestinians, possibly Syrians as well; claims right-wing political figures behind probe.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert yesterday accused the police, the state comptroller and the state prosecution of having "an agenda" to remove him from power. Testifying on the second day of his corruption trial, Olmert said that had he not been forced to resign due to the police investigations, Israel could have secured a peace agreement with the Palestinians and possibly with the Syrians too.

"I know how close we were and what was at stake," Olmert told the court. "We stood on a brink that could have changed life here. But I also know that such decisions cannot be made when a black cloud is overshadowing your life."

Olmert hinted that right-wing political figures were behind the investigations. "A private investigator was offered a million dollars to come up with incriminating evidence against me," he said.

"There was also someone who opened a newspaper to bring down the government," he added, referring to the Israel Hayom daily.

Olmert blasted the law enforcement authorities for the way in which they conducted the investigations against him, accusing State Prosecutor Moshe Lador of pressing charges against him before the inquiries were completed and without waiting to hear his version of the allegations.

Throughout his 30 years of public service, Olmert said, "I don't recall the state comptroller announcing in advance that he was launching a probe, over the smallest thing. The announcement in itself turns it into an affair... I don't remember when a comptroller decided in one year to release four or five reports about one person."

Olmert also slammed Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, who was head of the investigations unit at the time, for the leaks from his investigations. When the Talansky affair broke out, Olmert said Danino had assured his lawyer that no information would leak from his police interviews.

"Danino said only few know about it and they all signed a confidentiality agreement," Olmert said. "It was also agreed that the detectives would arrive in plain clothes and an unidentified car to ensure complete secrecy. But that evening, the [television] news opened with a dramatic announcement that 'the prime minister would be questioned at home.'"

The former prime minister added that the police and prosecution had created the impression that they were dealing with a serial offender. "Again they tell me they are considering an investigation. Then comes the state comptroller's decision to look into it. There are grounds for suspicion and they're beginning to probe. Gradually they build up an atmosphere around the prime minister. They have nothing, but they create the impression that there cannot be so much smoke without a fire," he said.

Olmert spoke at length about the impossible task of running state affairs in one of Israel's stormiest periods while dealing with the criminal investigation against him, describing the experience as a roller-coaster ride.

He also took the opportunity to justify his conduct before and during the Second Lebanon War.

The conflict between conducting state affairs and the investigations peaked at the beginning of 2007, when "the national timetable took a turn," Olmert said. "The head of the Mossad called me. I see him regularly, but it's a rare occasion when the head of the Mossad calls you and says, 'I have to see you.'

"He was with two men, his deputy and the head of a certain division. They gave me information [about something] that rarely happens in a state... I looked at them, they looked at me... I knew that from that moment, nothing would be the same. On the survival, level it was something of unequalled magnitude."

Olmert did not say what he was talking about, but foreign media reported at the time that a nuclear reactor had been bombed in Syria.

"Then, at some point, there was a knock on the door," Olmert continued. "I said don't come in but the door opened and the head of foreign diplomacy says I'm sorry, in half an hour, Channel 2 is going to broadcast something about Bank Leumi. They need our comment."

This conflict was not unique, Olmert said, adding that almost every dramatic landmark during his term in office - the Lebanon war, Operation Cast Lead, the assassination of Moughniyeh, the Winograd Commission, the Annapolis summit, the talks with the Syrians and the Palestinians - had been accompanied by investigations and headlines about additional affairs.

Olmert hinted the reports' timing was not accidental, but stoped short of accusing the authorities of conspiracy.

Speaking about his police sessions after the leaks to the media, Olmert said, "I was angry, hurt, upset to the bottom of my soul. I felt I had to ward off a frontal attack with all my power... I felt the die was cast, the game was sold."