In wake of attack, Dichter talks politics

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter embarrassed himself on Wednesday when he held a press conference at the Knesset focusing solely on politics immediately after the terror attack not far away on Jerusalem's Jaffa Road. Dichter began the press conference at 12:05 p.m., 10 minutes after the attack and five minutes after Israel Radio led its newscast with a report on the incident. Reporters had expected him to either cancel the press conference or speak only about the attack. But Dichter, who is the minister in charge of the police, said he did not have information about the attack and went right into his preplanned speech calling for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to be prevented from seeking reelection for the Kadima leadership. Even later in the press conference, when Dichter was handed a note about the attack by an aide, he continued answering questions about politics. Olmert's associates said it was "shameful" that Dichter had conducted a press conference instead of running to the scene of the crime. Kadima officials said Dichter's image had been harmed by the press conference and that any negative message Dichter had intended to deliver against Olmert had boomeranged against himself. "The minister of public security should be engaged in protecting the citizens of the state and not in petty politics," a source close to Olmert said. "Someone who sees himself as a candidate for prime minister should know better." Dichter defended himself by saying that when the press conference began, all he knew was that a tractor driver had gone wild. He said it was not clear that it was a terror attack until after the press conference had ended. The minister said he had no regrets about his behavior. He jabbed back at Olmert's associates, whom he accused of engaging in politics. "Apparently the Prime Minister's Office panicked because of what I said," said Dichter, who is a former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief. "They can't teach Avi Dichter what a terror attack is. I have dealt with such things before." At the press conference, Dichter said Kadima was in a critical period and that if Olmert were not prevented from running for reelection, the party would fall from power. "I came to politics after 35 years of serving the country, and I joined Kadima because they raised the banner of introducing a different kind of politics that would be clean and fair," Dichter said. "Any action taken to prepare the ground for Olmert to be elected again to lead Kadima is going against Kadima, its partners in the coalition and the Israeli public." Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.