With the removal of the gag order on the investigation of former MK Azmi Bishara on Wednesday the severity of the allegations against him is now becoming evident. The case was built using wiretappings conducted by the Shin Bet during the Second Lebanon War.
The wiretaps were authorized by the High Court of Justice, which is the only body capable of sanctioning the surveillance of a Knesset member and that authorization must be renewed every three months.
But investigators had their work cut out for them when they understood the methods being employed by Bishara and his Hizbullah contacts, which are described as professional and difficult to crack.
But the sophistication of his tactics may very well have been Bishara's undoing. While he suspected security forces may be listening in, Bishara's confidence in the high-tech communications system and his apparent eagerness to please Hizbullah and aid them in their war against Israel loosened his lips and provided the Shin Bet with substantial evidence against him. Most of the allegedly incriminating conversations took place during the war itself.
In one of the conversations Bishara was asked an unusually direct question by his Hizbullah contact who wanted to know how Israel would respond if it were hit by long range missiles which would reach beyond the city of Haifa. Bishara mumbled and admonished his contact, hinting that the conversation may be monitored, but after a short while his aspirations got the best of him and he told the Hizbullah man that such an action would serve Hizbullah's goals. Several days later rockets began hitting targets south of Haifa.
Bishara also provided his contacts with detailed explanations of optimal targets for their rockets and which towns should be avoided. Hizbullah put a great deal of trust in Bishara's situation assessments and apparently operated according to a lot of the information he provided. In addition to the monetary compensation for this information Hizbullah apparently spared no efforts at making Bishara feel important in an attempt to boost his motivation to help them.
Traitorous glare of the spotlight
When police investigators tried to summon Bishara for questioning after the war they soon discovered that this would be easier said than done. The political leader actively avoided them and refused to return telephone calls to investigators.
But, not to be deterred, the police and Shin Bet decided to employ Bishara's well known love of the media spotlight for their cause and had a police officer named Yaron London (also the name of a renowned journalist) call his office.
When Bishara heard about the call from his aides he thought the man in question was the popular television host and he immediately returned the call. "Is this Yaron London?" asked Bishara. "Yes," said the officer and before Bishara could place the unfamiliar voice the officer had identified himself as a police investigator and summoned Bishara for questioning.
Bishara didn't seem the least bit perturbed when he arrived at the Petah Tikva police headquarters six weeks ago. As a Knesset member he enjoyed full immunity and could leave the questioning at any given time. The police and Shin Bet would be powerless to act until they convinced a court to lift Bishara's immunity, what would no doubt have been a long and drawn-out process.
But Bishara assumed he was being questioned about his trips to Syria and Lebanon after the war and therefore wasn't concerned about the questioning, after all he'd been through this exact process numerous times. Even if he was again charged with traveling to an enemy country without authorization he could again say that he was acting as a Knesset member of the state of Israel and the indictment would be thrown out by the court. He is said to have arrived at the International Serious Crimes Department brash and overconfident, smug even.
Bishara was questioned twice by police in as many days in late March and only halfway through the second session did his bravado seem to falter. Investigators said he began to realize the severity of the situation when they presented him with partial transcripts from his telephone conversations with a Hizbullah official.
"Wait a minute," he asked the investigators, "what is it that you're accusing me of?" Aiding the enemy during wartime, contact with a foreign agent and money laundering, they replied.
During that questioning investigators also presented Bishara with evidence proving the alleged transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from locations abroad to his home. Anti-laundering laws clearly dictate that such sums must be registered and Bishara knew those laws well. He also knew that as a Knesset member he must receive special authorization to have a second income.
Bishara then informed the investigators that he was leaving the country for a few days, but since then hasn't returned.
'Half a book, in English'
Investigators traced the money back to a money changer in Jordan who would transfer it to a family of changers in East Jerusalem with whom Bishara was in contact with.
"I have a book for you," the changer would tell Bishara. According to the police 'book' was a codeword for the sum of $50,000. "What language do you want the book in?" he would then ask the MK. "English" meant Bishara wanted his payment in dollars, "Hebrew" meant he preferred shekels.
Investigators said they knew Bishara was using code words because he suspected he was being wiretapped, they said they burst into fits of laughter when Bishara placed an order for "Half a book, in English", meaning $25,000. Bishara also haggled with the money changers over their commission rates.
The police said that the clandestine system had apparently been established before the Second Lebanon War.
Bishara categorically denied ever receiving the money but he declined the investigators proposal to bring him face to face with the Jerusalem changer who is largely assumed to have accepted a deal as a government witness. According to the police and Shin Bet the money was not used to fund Bishara's political movement but was only kept by Bishara.