The intra-Israeli Threat

A hidden hand is ensuring that anyone who dares to come out against the corruption is immediately subject to a public and targeted intervention.

The state of Israel is now dealing with three strategic threats: the Iranian threat, the Palestinian threat and the intra-Israeli threat. Apparently, the intra-Israeli threat is the worst. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's centrifuges are looming, Hamas' Qassams are killing and wounding - but the leadership's impotence, the crumbling of proper government and the rot of corruption are more dangerous.

Among other things, they are neutering Israel's ability to deal properly with the centrifuges and the Qassams and are interfering with its ability to prepare itself as a democratic, moral and determined society for the expected challenges. There is something rotten here and as long as the rot is spreading to the pillars of this society, its ability to withstand the forces bearing down upon it is decreasing.

During the coming weeks, dealing with the intra-Israeli threat will reach a fork in the road. Senior officials at the State Prosecutor's Office will have to take a most difficult decision. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, State Prosecutor Eran Shendar and Deputy State Prosecutor Shuki Lemberger will have to decide whether to investigate the Bank Leumi affair to the end or to bury it; whether to adopt the version of those who see it as the gravest corruption affair in the state's history, or to minimize its importance; whether to set in motion a full-scale criminal investigation of a serving prime minister, or to allow the shadows of the dramatic affair to fade away.

These are agonizing decisions. On the one hand there is the forceful claim that a former finance minister knowingly tried to bias one of the largest tenders in the history of the state. This claim is well-justified and is supported by testimony from reliable witnesses and various documents. A comprehensive, systematic and thorough investigation conducted at the State Comptroller's Office over time has found that there is reason to suspect that Ehud Olmert tried to bring about the sale of a rare state asset to associates of his at a price hundreds of millions of dollars lower than its value.

There has never been such a far-reaching claim against an Israeli prime minister. There has never been support for such a claim by a key person in the public service. The accusation is of a blatant breach of trust. The accusation is that the person serving as prime minister acted out of a conflict of interests on an issue of paramount importance.

The contrary version holds that it is all personal. Olmert did what he did in the process of Bank Leumi's privatization out of proper and appropriate considerations, and the reason for the danse macabre around the former finance minister is solely personal persecution. According to Olmert's people, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and Accountant General Yaron Zelekha have conspired to bring down a prime minister who was legitimately elected by the voting public. According to them, the state comptroller, the accountant general and various other troublemakers are now endangering the stability of Israel's regime, and their insistence on pawing through the details of a deal that never came about is preventing Olmert from governing and is dragging the administration into a vortex at a time when responsible and obedient patriotism is needed.

Between these two versions now stand three attorneys, and the pressure campaign operated around them is unprecedented. The top echelon of the police is signaling that it is not interested in an investigation. Senior academics are hinting that an investigation is not desirable. The position of some of the economy's leaders is clear. Some media representatives are also not functioning as watchdogs but rather as the prime minister's Rottweilers. A hidden hand is ensuring that anyone who dares to come out against the corruption is immediately subject to a public and targeted intervention. The message is clear and unambiguous: Don't mess with us. Don't you dare mess with us. Nobody messes with us.

Thus, the dilemma the attorneys are facing is not just about the affair itself. This is not just a matter of different ways in which the astounding evidentiary material can be read. Each of the three knows exactly what forces he is facing and what he can expect if he dares to enter into a confrontation with the strongest power centers in the country. Each knows that a chill wind of McCarthyism is blowing here today.

There is nothing in the above to determine what the attorneys' decision should be. The accumulating material should have its say. If there is nothing to it, then the prime minister should be cleared of all suspicion. If there is something to it, then it is necessary to set in motion an energetic and comprehensive investigation.

In either case, the attorneys' decision must be clean, clear and transparent. They cannot leave ambiguous a question of such importance. They must know what lies in the balance; and if there is a festering abscess in the Bank Leumi affair, then it must be excised. Israel will know how to deal with the Iranian threat and the Palestinian threat. But dealing with the intra-Israeli threat is now, above all, on the desks of three honest attorneys in Jerusalem. They must not fail. They must not allow the rot to eat the foundations of this society.