The Lieberman File and the Countdown to War

If the attorney general's announcement moves further away, it means war has moved closer.

As a general in the Israel Defense Forces, Dan Shomrom was bitingly critical of his bitter enemies who became chief of staff: Rafael Eitan and Moshe Levy. When despite their best efforts Shomron became chief of staff, he quickly became the target of criticism himself.

He was insulted but said the criticism was not of him personally, but of a person "who had penetrated the institution of chief of staff." The role might make the man, but the man also starts to identify with the role - all of a sudden he's an institution.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein also seems to think he's an institution. He has clearly adopted a tone of statesmanlike responsibility, looking into the eyes of his predecessors' photographs on his wall, waiting to join them, aware of the importance of continuity and legacy. Even if he can remain silent in the face of personal insult, despite his combative character, he won't be able to remain silent in the face of an attack on the institution of the attorney general.

That's why he backed up the State Prosecutor's Office after the verdict on Ehud Olmert was handed down. That's why he's pushing himself to stop delaying his decision on whether to indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Putting Lieberman on trial will knock Lieberman out of the government and could shake it up, too.

Weinstein could do the minimum and issue weak statements in light of the attack on State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, after Olmert was acquitted of some of the charges against him and convicted of breach of trust. Weinstein's predecessor, Menachem Mazuz, who with Lador led the charges against Olmert, and rightly so, was silent and invisible.

The working relations between Weinstein and Lador are correct, but at those levels there are always sensitivities, territories and teams from which one takes advice. Weinstein can't deal with matters pertaining to Olmert because when Weinstein was a private attorney, Olmert used his services to plan his defense in a case that seemed particularly strong and could result in a conviction - the Rishon Tours double-billing case.

No one would rebuke Weinstein if, considering his delicate situation, he had let Lador and his colleagues face the crisis without his support. Indeed, he doesn't intervene in their decision-making on whether to seek a prison term for Olmert. (Even community service, or a suspended sentence, would attach moral turpitude to the sentence, barring Olmert's way to back to politics. ) But Weinstein was furious at the accusations that Lador had failed, and at the demands for Lador's resignation.

To Weinstein, such claims are baseless. The only time the prosecution's decisions should be scrutinized is the indictment phase. If at that point, prosecutors Mazuz, Lador and their colleagues (the police investigators who concluded that even bribery charges should be brought ) believed that there was a reasonable chance of conviction, it was their legal and professional obligation to prosecute.

By the same token, Weinstein is likely over the next six weeks to announce he is indicting Lieberman. A senior legal official familiar with the mood in the attorney general's office said last week that if Weinstein wanted to use doubts on the case's solidity as a reason to close it, he would have done so already. He would have had no problem facing the challenge of High Court petitions in the matter; justices are not fond of diving into such a case. Lacking signs of a crack in Weinstein's assessment that the case has a reasonable chance of conviction, Weinstein will sign the indictment.

Regarding the date, people in the attorney general's office say that another postponement will demean the institution of the attorney general, not just the man. But if September comes and there is still no decision, that can only mean one thing: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have persuaded Weinstein to put off a decision to indict so as not to shake up the government on the eve of a war against Iran.

So far there has been no such interference, but with the countdown under way, we should keep an eye on the Weinstein-Lieberman index: If the attorney general's announcement moves further away, it means war has moved closer.