Olmert uses flotilla to stage comeback

Former PM criticizes Netanyahu, Barak's ability to cope with raid.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
June 6, 2010 19:18
2 minute read.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert talks to the pre

olmert court 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert is still in hot water with legal problems, but he appeared to use last week's Gaza flotilla episode to re-establish himself politically.

Olmert gave a rare interview to Army Radio on Wednesday in which he criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's handling of the flotilla and their relationship with the international community.

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"The government must make a big effort now to fix the diplomatic situation, appease friends that are angry at us, and try to escape from the ring of isolation we are in," Olmert said. "It is possible to restore the situation to what it was not too long ago when we were the darlings of the world, of Europe and America."

He also briefed columnists for the weekend Hebrew papers about how he turned down Barak's request to stop ships bound for Gaza when Barak was his defense minister.

In a story published in Nahum Barnea's column in Yediot Aharonot and Ben Caspit's in Ma'ariv, Olmert recalled in great detail Barak coming to him with his Bluetooth cell phone accessory in his ear on a Friday evening and asking him to authorize Naval commandos to board a boat. Olmert said no and told Barak to go to sleep.

The story appeared to contrast Olmert's coolheadedness with Netanyahu's demeanor and suggest that Olmert, unlike Netanyahu, knew how to say no to Barak for the good of the country.

A Ha'aretz column on Friday recalled that Olmert twice dealt with ships approaching the Gaza coast. The first, in August 2008, was allowed into Gaza after it was checked for weapons and barely received coverage.

In the second incident, in February 2009, immediately after Operation Cast Lead, several gunships and one patrol boat welcomed the vessel. The navy threw out a rope, tugged the ship into Ashdod Port, it was checked, and when it turned out that there were no weapons aboard, the equipment it carried was transferred to Gaza and the ship was sent back to where it came from.

"I don't want to analyze the operative steps I took, but I will just say that I know the Naval commando's officers and its men," Olmert told Army Radio. "I authorized daring maneuvers. But I don't want to add to that."

In Olmert's last political speech at a Kadima council meeting that honored him, he left open the possibility that he would make a political comeback after he overcame his legal woes. Both Netanyahu and Barak made comebacks after three-to-four year breaks from politics.

Olmert's spokesman Yaakov Galanti said the former prime minister is a private businessman and they do not want to comment about speculation he is considering a political comeback.


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