Israelgate No. 2: D.C. office of Barak aide struck again

WASHINGTON — For the second time within seven days, burglars broke into the Washington office of an American political consultant hired to advise Israel's Labor Party candidate for prime minister.

Files relating to Ehud Barak's campaign were seized early this week after intruders broke through a second-story window and disabled a new alarm system that had been installed in pollster Stanley Greenberg's office after the first break-in, according to a Labor campaign official.

Sources said the only materials disturbed during the burglary, which occurred between 4 p.m. Monday and 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, were those relating to the election and Barak.

Last week's burglary was quickly dubbed in the Israeli media as "Israel's Watergate," and several Labor legislators immediately pointed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the likely culprit. But after the second burglary, Netanyahu said the break-ins may have been attempts to embarrass him.

"This is a theater of the absurd," Netanyahu told Israel Radio Wednesday. "It's an attempt to spread clouds of false accusations against the Likud."

Likud spokeswoman Ronit Eckstein said, "It appears like cheap provocation on the part of our rival, whose intention is to attach unfounded suspicious on Likud in some sort of poor man's Watergate."

Countering such charges, Democratic consultant Steve Rabinowitz, who has also been advising Barak on his campaign, said, "Stanley Greenberg did not break into his own office and then file a false police report."

Rabinowitz, whose office is just around the corner from Greenberg's, accused Barak's opponents of involvement with the crime.

"It's obviously political opponents of Barak's trying to see to what new lows they can stoop to try to preserve their political standing," he said. "To me there is no other explanation…Even the Watergate wasn't broken into twice.

"We're certainly not pointing the finger at any political candidate or political partner — except to say it's obviously Barak's political opponents."

The FBI and Washington police are investigating both incidents.

"We fully trust the FBI to do its job," Barak spokeswoman Aliza Goren said. "We aren't afraid of anything. Any paper that might have been stolen from their office won't change the fact that Netanyahu and his government have ended their term and will lose the elections, and there must be some elements that are afraid of the polls."

In last week's break-in, burglars snatched confidential files and petty cash from Greenberg Quinlan Research Inc., located only a few blocks from the Capitol.

Greenberg, President Clinton's former pollster and a partner in the firm, was recently hired as an adviser to Barak, along with Democratic Party consultant James Carville.

Greenberg's firm has provided no details about what was stolen in either break-in, saying only it believes its work on the Israeli campaign has been targeted.

In Israel, police this week disclosed that members of Barak's team had reported a wave of break-ins in their homes over the past four months. In each of the incidents no personal possessions were stolen.