The burglars entered the office of Stanley Greenberg, a prominent Democratic pollster, through an air vent and then cut a hole through the ceiling. Tal Silberstein, Mr Barak's campaign manager, said the thieves "knew exactly what they wanted because the only file taken was one dealing with the Israeli campaign".
The Israeli press yesterday compared the theft to the Watergate burglary of 1974 when a break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters orchestrated from the White House ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The run-up to the Israeli election, which takes place on 17 May, is particularly rancorous because the two leading candidates, Mr Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, are competing against former colleagues.
Sergeant Joe Gentile, of the District of Columbia police, confirmed that the robbers entered the offices of Greenberg Quinlan Research late on Monday night or early Tuesday and stole confidential files. He said the police and the FBI were investigating the possibility that "certain documents were targeted".
Several members of the Labour party were quick to suggest that Mr Netanyahu's Likud party was behind the burglary, although Aliza Goren, Mr Barak's spokeswoman, said: "We cannot point to any guilty party and certainly have no idea who did this." Likud said it hoped the thieves would be caught.
Both Labour and Likud have hired American political consultants for the coming campaign. In the 1996 election Mr Netanyahu's victory was partly credited to Arthur Finkelstein, a right-wing American consultant, who advised him on tactics and strategy. Mr Greenberg has in the past played a leading role in advising President Bill Clinton.
The Labour party milked the incident for all it was worth yesterday, but was nervous of giving the impression that its political policies were being decided in the US. It said all important decisions on the election were made in Israel.
Mr Barak's campaign is already floundering because of the emergence of centrist candidates, such as the former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin- Shahak, who are convinced the Labour leader cannot beat Mr Netanyahu. Mr Barak also faced a fresh row at the Labour party convention yesterday because he wants to put his own allies high up on the Labour list for the Knesset elections. That would force a number of party veterans out of politics.
Hagai Meiron, a Labour Knesset member, left the party earlier in the week because he was "not built to serve in the court of a one-man ruler".Reuse content