The Suspect, the Cop and the Minister

The Olmert mishap - namely, the apathy of Israel society, which allowed such a person to reach the pinnacle of the system - demonstrates how vital it is to thwart proposals to freeze investigations against sitting premiers.

1. Taking bribes, aggravated fraud, ordinary fraud, breach of trust by a civil servant, money laundering, tax evasion. These words strike the Israeli ear like the beat of tom-toms in the jungle. The prime minister in all his wretchedness. Prima facie, of course; it is all prima facie, until a court rules. But Ehud Olmert has long since been a prima facie prime minister, without a drop of moral authority to demand that even the least of Israel's citizens - even someone who just yesterday got out of jail and rejoined society - view him as a leader. One could term such a regime an Olmertarchy.

The Olmert mishap - namely, the apathy of Israel society, which allowed such a person to reach the pinnacle of the system - demonstrates how vital it is to thwart proposals to freeze investigations against sitting premiers. Such a freeze could put a politician vulnerable to extortion or bribery in the Prime Minister's Office. His benefactors, that is, his partners in crime, would know how to collect their debts from him.

This is true in the domestic sphere, vis-a-vis the crime families and the tycoons with no sense of restraint, but no less so in the overseas sphere, vis-a-vis foreign governments. In the Morris Talansky case, Olmert is suspected of taking bribes amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars from an American citizen, with some of the transfers taking place in the United States. If this suspicion is well-grounded, then it is not only Talansky who is in trouble with the FBI. One could also imagine an American investigation against Olmert, similar to the case in which former Ukrainian prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko was convicted in San Francisco in 2004 of corruption, even though most of the acts occurred in his own country.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's experience in the Olmert case and other cases of governmental corruption has led him to propose a "declaration of close associates" that politicians would deposit with the state comptroller alongside their declaration of assets. Elected officials would be allowed to receive gifts from those who appear on a closed list of old friends and relatives, but should they use their office to assist anyone on the list, they would find themselves in a conflict of interests. Had such a practice existed at the time of the "Greek island" case, for instance, a glance at Olmert's declaration would have revealed whether businessman David Appel appeared on it. If he had, this would have rendered kosher a gift from Appel to Olmert, but not so assistance to Appel from Olmert; if it had not, the opposite would have been true. Politicians would no longer be able to play innocent and hope to enjoy the best of both worlds.

2. Police Commissioner David Cohen enabled Olmert's investigators to keep their eye on the ball, without having to continually look back to see whether they were alone on the battlefield. That behavior is a sharp contrast to that of almost all his predecessors. Cohen also performed well during the Gaza disengagement, in his role as head of the investigations and intelligence division. He handles missions better than he does people, and is determined not to allow the police to be an organization that runs itself. But his treatment of Uri Bar-Lev paints the police as an organization that persecutes itself.

Squaring the circle, such that both Bar-Lev and Cohen would be happy with an arrangement that preserved Cohen's authority while leaving Bar-Lev in the force, requires a supreme effort, perhaps by the very best of the investigators - some of whom are competing against Bar-Lev for promotion and, ultimately, the commissioner's job - who are handling the Olmert probes.

One idea that has not yet been considered is appointing Major General Bar-Lev as commander of the Israel Defense Forces' Home Front Command in another year, when Major General Yair Golan becomes either head of a regional command or head of a General Staff directorate. This could be a precursor to transferring Home Front Command to the Public Security Ministry, or at least a way of getting some fresh air into a military system that was hammered in the state comptroller's follow-up report, via the experience of a policeman who has been in constant contact with citizens and communities under bombardment.

Former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, who was extremely impressed with Bar-Lev's success as head of the police's Southern District during the Gaza evacuation, proposed at the time, only half in jest, that he transfer to the IDF General Staff. Bar-Lev, like Assaf Hefetz, Shlomo Aharonishky and others, was a noncommissioned IDF officer before entering the police force. IDF brigadier generals (Gabi Amir, Yaakov Terner) have become police major generals. Herzl Shafir exchanged an IDF major general's khaki for the police commissioner's blue. Common courtesy demands that the police give something to the army in return.

3. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter gave the Israeli media a huge but poisoned compliment last week: It behaves more responsibly than its sources in the government and defense establishment - whose identities Dichter is only guessing at, unless he spied on them in his former role as head of the Shin Bet security service. At a conference in memory of Haaretz commentator Ze'ev Schiff, Dichter focused the spotlight of the interrogation room on Israeli journalists, who he said constitute a "national asset" because they know many more secrets than they publish or broadcast. Perhaps this was not a deliberate retaliation by former defense officials - you are endangering us, so we will endanger you. But should Dichter's intention be regrettably misunderstood, as has happened more than once recently, someone in one of those organizations that view kidnapping as their profession is liable to see this as encouragement for grabbing a national asset or two.