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In one of the most serious cases of espionage in Israeli history, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed Wednesday that former Balad chairman Azmi Bishara was under investigation for allegedly spying on behalf of Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War by providing the guerrilla group with targets for their rockets, as well as classified military information.
The investigation, carried out by the Shin Bet and the Israel Police over the past few years, reveals a long list of serious espionage-related crimes and activity against the State of Israel.
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The former MK allegedly transferred to Hizbullah information, predictions, assessments and recommendations about the political echelon, the IDF and the Israeli public during the war.
The suspicions revealed to the press on Wednesday were only a fraction of the overall allegations against Bishara coming out of the investigation that the Shin Bet and the police have conducted over the past few years, security officials said.
In addition to supplying information to a Hizbullah intelligence agent, Bishara allegedly held contacts with intelligence officials from other countries. Based on these suspicions, the Supreme Court permitted the police and the Shin Bet to tap Bishara's telephone conversations, a tactic that can only be employed with the court's approval. The investigation was conducted in conjunction with Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and the State Attorney's Office.
Bishara, the Shin Bet said, also received detailed missions from Hizbullah, which he carried out. He is suspected of assisting the enemy in a time of war; maintaining contact with a foreign agent; passing information to an enemy; money laundering and terrorist financing.
The first of those charges, assisting the enemy in a time of war, is one of the rare offenses punishable by death in Israel.
During the war, Bishara reportedly gave advice to Hizbullah on how to "deepen their strikes against Israel." He also allegedly gave advice concerning the effects of Hizbullah's use of long-range missiles south of Haifa, and Israel's response to the attacks. Several days after supposedly Bishara gave his opinion to Hizbullah, rockets fell south of Haifa.
He also allegedly transferred military information to Hizbullah that, according to the Shin Bet, he knew to have been classified by the IDF censor. Bishara also supposedly informed Hizbullah of what he called "Israel's intention to target Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah."
The Shin Bet said that his relationship with Hizbullah had begun even before the war.
"Bishara caused severe harm to the security of the State of Israel," a high-ranking Shin Bet official said Wednesday. "He maintained secret contact by secret lines of communication with Hizbullah... He walked around the Knesset where decisions were being made by the prime minister, ministers and government officials."
Bishara was questioned by the Israel Police's International Serious Crimes Unit on March 22 and 23 in Petah Tikva, in two three-hour sessions.
ISCU head Lt.-Cmdr. Amichai Shai said Bishara was confident when he arrived for the first day of questioning. But when the MK understood that the allegations against him were more serious than he had thought, there was a noticeable change in his behavior.
During the questioning, Bishara said he planned to travel abroad for several days. Due to his parliamentary immunity, authorities were unable to prevent him from leaving the country. Police continued to communicate with Bishara's representatives, extending the deadline for the MK's return until April 24.
Should Bishara now return to Israel, he would be arrested immediately. The state prosecution is weighing whether to issue an international warrant for his arrest. Police said there was a large amount of evidence about which Bishara had yet to be questioned.
Bishara is also accused of receiving at least hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally. The money, the Shin Bet said, was transferred from a money-exchange office in Jordan to another in east Jerusalem in envelopes, and from there to his home in Beit Hanina. In some cases he received the funds in dollars, and in other cases in shekels. Each transfer was equivalent to $50,000.
The Shin Bet said, however, that the money did not originate in Jordan, but came from a third country that officials said they were unable to name due to censorship. During his interrogation, Bishara failed to provide explanations for the money transfers.
Police said that they were unsure what Bishara had done with the money, and could not be certain whether or not he had taken it with him overseas.
Shai said that the police were considering requesting a judicial inquiry in Jordan. He added that it would be the first time Israel had asked to conduct an investigation in Jordan.
On April 26, after his resignation went into effect, police searched Bishara's homes in Beit Hanina and in Haifa, as well as his office in Nazareth. Earlier this week, Shai said, police searched Bishara's office in the Knesset after receiving special permission. The documents confiscated, however, have not yet been fully reviewed due to parliamentary considerations.
"Azmi Bishara is wanted for questioning by the Israel Police," Shai said.
The high-ranking Shin Bet official dismissed Bishara's accusations of discrimination and said the severe suspicions spoke for themselves. "We will not be deterred from investigating anyone, even public officials or Knesset members, who need to be investigated," the official said.
Shai did, however, emphasize that only Bishara - and not the Balad Party nor any of its other members - were under investigation.
The Shin Bet official said Bishara, who has a doctorate in philosophy and is a "very intelligent person," was highly regarded by Hizbullah as an intellectual who not only had insight into the dynamics of the Middle East, but also on the State of Israel and its Jewish population.
Many MKs were severe in their criticism of Bishara, with MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) appealing to Mazuz to implement a clause in the Penal Code that would allow for Bishara to be given the death penalty in convicted of assisting the enemy in a time of war.
"Bishara should be tried in absentia and should receive the maximum punishment by law - capital punishment," said Hasson.
But MKs from the Left and Arab parties were quick to defend Bishara, calling the charges against him "groundless."
Balad MK Wasal Taha said the "police claims have no basis and they are mocking the public" by refusing to provide concrete details of the investigation.
"As a former military officer who is familiar with this field, I cannot see, technically, how Bishara could have pointed out Israeli targets for Hizbullah," said MK Ran Cohen (Meretz). He added, however, that Bishara should return to Israel to defend himself.
Bishara's lieutenant, MK Jamal Zahalka, said he was summoned to the Knesset on Monday because police wanted him to be present while they searched the former Balad MK's office.