There's a well-defined distinction between a schlemazel and a schlemiel. The former is the one on whom soup is spilled, while the latter is the one who spills it. In the rare instance that both categories of klutziness coalesce in one persona, it's an out-and-out disaster.
Such an embarrassing, uncommon confluence of bad luck and clumsiness may go a long way to accounting for Defense Minister Amir Peretz's incredible recurrent gaffes.
But the one in which he sat alongside new Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi last week and inspected paratroop maneuvers on the Golan Heights through capped binoculars far exceeded the merely preposterous. It was more like a symbolic embodiment and accentuation of how Peretz and the entire lame government in which he serves look out for Israel's most critical security interests.
There he sat, peering intently into opaque black plastic lens covers, yet nodding - apparently knowingly - to explanations by the just-installed IDF top commander (whose new insignia non-too-dexterous Peretz didn't manage to loop though the shoulder strap of Ashkenazi's uniform a few days earlier - also in full view of TV cameramen). Peretz focused attentively, as if he actually saw something, and even made professional sense of what he so keenly observed.
This farce, seemingly straight out of a Marx Brothers' madcap spoof, was repeated no less than three times on that one occasion.
In truth, though, it doesn't much matter what Peretz did or didn't see that morning. His peerless brand of piercing perception and knack for disregarding empirical evidence was already fully demonstrated three days earlier, during a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee session with Yossi Baidatz, head of Military Intelligence's Research Division.
Peretz participated as well. Displeased with what Baidatz depicted, the defense minister rushed to cap the parliamentary committee's binoculars. The less seen the better, according to Peretz's incisive viewpoint.
Why? Because what Baidatz showed Knesset members underscored Peretz's (and Ehud Olmert's) utter failure to achieve anything in last summer's ill-conducted campaign against Hizbullah, in which 150 Israelis lost their lives. Baidatz exposed the sham of the remaining tatters of this government's pitiable claims to any success when he disclosed that Hizbullah managed to mend all damage it sustained, restore its strength to what it was prior to the Peretz-Olmert fiasco, and even surpass its antebellum firepower.
If Baidatz was right, then Security Council Resolution 1701 is worthless.
LEST HE be misunderstood, Baidatz stressed that his testimony was "based on fact, not assessments." Attending legislators pressed the point and repeatedly inquired if Baidatz was revealing that Hizbullah had indeed increased its might. Each time he replied emphatically in the affirmative.
That was when Peretz felt compelled to becloud committee members' vision. He decisively interjected and with his superior omniscient authority corrected the brigadier general by contending that his report "doesn't pertain to real force but to potential for acquiring military capabilities."
Perhaps initially unaware of what qualifies as a reality check by the criteria of Peretz's unique, hawkeyed acuity, poor Baidatz strove to eliminate any misconceptions and reiterated that he was speaking of "actual, not potential force."
He didn't realize that Peretz's X-ray vision enables him to see right through the tangible and dart past it, lens caps or not.
Yet as soon as Baidatz caught on and figured out that he was saying what the boss didn't want to hear, he amended his initial statement so as not to contradict the honcho he had to aim to please. Hemming and hawing, he somehow corroborated Peretz's penetrating discernment of only a "potentially" stronger Hizbullah, with rockets ready nearby but not yet moved to precisely where they can wreak the same havoc as in the July-August barrages.
Next the IDF spokeswoman was recruited to blur collective Israeli sight yet further and "set the record straight," as per Peretz's preferred specifications. "IDF Intelligence closely follows Hizbullah rehabilitation efforts," we were reassured, and were told that Hizbullah, "some of whose systems were severely damaged" in the recent fighting, "has only partially regained its past capability." However, though seeking to rescue Peretz's lost honor, the official communique proceeded to carp about ongoing weapons supplies from Syria and Iran to Hizbullah in incontrovertible violation of the 1701 piece of paper.
This essentially meshes with what Baidatz contended before see-no-evil Peretz put him in his place. Nevertheless, the IDF whitewash concludes with the reminder that "Hizbullah hasn't returned to its previous outposts. The Lebanese army is deployed on the border with Israel in an effort to uphold Lebanese sovereignty along the Blue Line."
No mention was made of said defenders of Lebanese sovereignty opening fire on IDF sappers who detonated explosive charges planted - on Israel's side of the Blue Line - by the very Hizbullah the Lebanese regulars were supposed to deter.
But that's not what's most offensive about this "clarification." The alacrity with which IDF intelligence and PR organs scramble to modify their reports for fear these might conflict with the government's political agenda is patently dangerous. It's nothing less than outrageous recklessness, which calls to mind - too closely for comfort - the subordination on the eve of the Yom Kippur War of intelligence analyses to the political wishful thinking of the powers-that-then-were. Cynically, 1973's much-maligned "concept" - unconscionably updated and in new guise - is back with a vengeance.
Not only doesn't Peretz see things as they are, he adamantly refuses to remove the proverbial lens caps even when Baidatz points them out and attempts to pull them off. Moreover, Peretz orders Baidatz to obediently fall in line and darken his own optics as well.
Some things are better not seen