Probe increasingly likely in Israel scandal
Jerusalem — Israel's security services cover-up scandal seems certain to end in an investigation, though its precise nature has yet to be decided. Both Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir are widely expected to agree on an investigation, perhaps by a lone official, which will be a compromise between demands for inquiry by a state commission and Mr. Shamir's opposition to such an inquiry.
Prime Minister Peres's Labor Party voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to demand a commission of inquiry which would also investigate the government role in the 1984 beating death of two captive Palestinian hijackers, and a subsequent alleged cover-up of the incident by Avraham Shalom, head of the Shin Beth (internal security service).
In a parliamentary address on the issue Monday, Peres managed to defuse a brewing political crisis over the issue between the Labor and Likud parties which are major partners in the coalition government. The Likud bloc has rallied behind Shamir and declared its opposition to a commission of inquiry.
Peres said he was prepared to submit to an investigation of the political echelon, but avoided committing himself unequivocally to a commission of inquiry. Though Shamir opposes such a commission, he has left the door open to some form of ``examination'' of the incident.
Peres has pursued contact with Shamir on a compromise formula and both Likud and Labor have remained unmoved by threats from the centrist Shinui Party to withdraw from the coalition if no commission is established.
Both Peres and Shamir have a common interest in achieving a compromise, observers say. Peres is anxious to avoid a major crisis with the Likud that might topple the government. This would expose him to charges of sabotaging his rotation agreement with Shamir, under which they are to switch jobs in October. In addition, Peres has made no secret of his staunch opposition to an inquiry which would reveal damaging details about the Shin Beth's secret operations.
Shamir says he opposes a commission of inquiry on security grounds, but some observers say he is more concerned with saving his own skin. Shamir was prime minister at the time of the beating incident and during most of the period it was investigated. Shin Beth chief Shalom, who resigned last week in return for a presidential pardon, said in his pardon request he acted during the alleged cover-up ``on authority and with permission.''
The statement appeared to implicate Shamir who, as prime minister, was directly responsible for the Shin Beth. Shamir has protested his innocence and maintains that Labor and left-wing parties that called for a commission to examine the government's action intended to discredit him and undermine the rotation agreement.
Another factor working against a full-scale commission inquiry is the lack of unanimous support of the idea by all Labor ministers. Defense Minister Yitzahk Rabin and Police Minister Chaim Bar-Lev, who were party to discussion of last week's pardon deal, have been reluctant to express support for an inquiry commission.
Neither has public opinion been aroused over the issue. A newspaper poll published Wednesday showed 72 percent of Israelis favor closing the cover-up case, and 67 percent oppose a commission of inquiry. The press was the most widely blamed for the controversy.
Analysts say Israeli public opinion appears to generally accept arguments against an investigation on grounds of national security. Many Israelis seem more troubled by the implications of the alleged cover-up than by the actual beating death of the two hijackers.
``Terrorists should be killed and even tortured as far as I'm concerned,'' one Jerusalem woman says. ``What troubles me is that people lie like that in the Shin Beth.''
A factor working in favor of a high-profile probe is the case being brought against the pardon deal by the Citizens' Rights movements and private attorneys in the Israeli High Court. In a major ruling Tuesday, the court ordered the government to explain within two weeks why there should not be a police investigation or any other probe of the alleged cover-up. It also ordered the government to submit a statement on the pardon process and on the justifications cited in the pardon requests.
A court decision in favor of a full-scale inquiry could well frustrate plans between Peres and Shamir to reach a compromise which has defused the political crisis caused by the Shin Beth case.