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With the Israeli media scope-locked on bigger stories, the fact that Thursday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert paid an obsequious and shameful visit to a country which propagates Holocaust denial and sponsors the Palestinian jihad went largely unnoticed.
No, Olmert did not visit Iran. He visited Egypt.
Iran's Holocaust denial conference last month was roundly condemned in Israel and in the West - as well it should have been. Not only is Holocaust denial intellectually and morally unacceptable. When undertaken by people whose stated desire is the physical annihilation of the Jewish state, Holocaust denial is also dangerous. Yet while everyone took note of the Iranian conference, aside from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, no one considered it disturbing when last week a sister conference organized by Egyptians who share Iran's aspiration to wipe Israel off the map was held.
Under the banner, "The Holocaust Lie," on December 27 the Egyptian Arab Socialist Party held its Holocaust denial conference in Cairo. The conference was broadcast live on Iran's Arabic language network Al-Alam. Its keynote speaker was party leader Waheed al Uksory. Uksory gained international prominence for being one of the few politicians whom the regime permitted to run against Egypt's dictator Hosni Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections.
That psychotic and genocidal hatred of the Jewish people rules the Egyptian street no less than it dominates the leadership ranks in Teheran has made no impression on Olmert and his associates. Far from responding to the Wiesenthal Center's call to protest the conference during his meeting Thursday with Mubarak at Sharm e-Sheikh, Olmert and his colleagues devoted their time ahead of the summit to searching for new superlatives to heap onto Mubarak for his "responsible" leadership of the so-called "moderate" Arab states.
Israelis received a taste of that "Egyptian moderation" on Wednesday night. On the eve of Olmert's visit with Mubarak, Channel 2 broadcast a Hamas recruitment video displaying the terror training camps it has built on the ruins of the Israeli communities of Gush Katif.
One of the stars of the film was an Egyptian jihadist who arrived at the camp for weapons training. He was filmed standing in front of the Egyptian flag - no doubt in a bid to demonstrate his country's great contribution to making "liberated" Gaza the jihadist wonderland it is today.
Prior to Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, Israelis were led to believe that the role Egypt would play in the area after the retreat would be quite different. Under Mubarak's iron fisted leadership, Egypt was then prime minister Ariel Sharon's ace in the hole - the leg on which his entire strategy of surrender rested.
Sharon and his advisers promised the Israeli people that we could trust Egypt to prevent Gaza from becoming a forward base for global jihad. To help Egypt fulfill its responsibilities, Sharon even agreed to breach the central principle and strategic guidepost of our peace treaty with Egypt - the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula. With Sharon's blessing, Egyptian military forces were deployed along the border with Gaza for the first time since 1967.
Unfortunately, Holocaust denying Egypt has not lived up to Sharon's promises. Not only have its military forces done nothing to prevent the mass transfer of weapons to Gaza. Egyptian authorities have enabled the inundation of Gaza with advanced weapons systems by allowing weapons shipments from Iran, Lebanon and other countries to be transferred from Egyptian ports to Gaza through the breached border which Egyptian authorities have done nothing to seal off.
And as the Channel 2 film showed, the Egyptian military also allows foreign terrorists to enter Gaza at will.
OLMERT'S VISIT to Sharm e-Sheikh yesterday is but one consequence of his government's overall foreign policy. Among its other guiding delusions, that policy is founded on the fiction of an Egyptian-Israeli alliance and friendship. It is this imaginary alliance that informs Olmert's belief that Israel has no need, and indeed no right to fight the burgeoning threat to its national security emanating from "liberated" Gaza - a threat that has grown to strategic proportions largely as a result of Egyptian actions.
But then the public and the media both had bigger fish to fry than Olmert's imaginary friendship with Mubarak. This week in two separate developments, the illusions of competence and integrity in the IDF General Staff and in the civil service came crashing down.
First, following a two-day closed conference of the IDF's senior commanders, Tuesday night IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz held a disturbing press conference where he presented his assessment of the central lessons from the summer's war. Earlier that day, the nation awoke to the news that overnight the police conducted mass arrests of the country's top tax officials, leading businessmen, and Olmert's bureau chief Shula Zaken. The arrests were the result of their investigation of a suspected conspiracy whereby acting under Zaken's alleged guidance, the businessmen and tax officials conspired to defraud the Tax Authority.
Standing before the cameras, Halutz enumerated a long list of strategic, operational, tactical and moral failures that took place during the course of the IDF's operation against Hizbullah last summer. While Halutz didn't admit it, a common thread runs through the General Staff's failure to clearly define its war aims to the forces in the field; the Navy's decision to send the INS Hanit into battle against an enemy armed with missiles without turning on its missile defense systems; the decision not to mobilize reserves or launch the ground campaign until it was too late to make a difference; the decision to ignore precise intelligence regarding Hizbullah's intentions and locations; and the failure to destroy Hizbullah's short-range missile arsenal. The thread that links all these failures is Halutz himself.
Any doubt that Halutz is unfit to command the IDF dissipated Tuesday when he stated that one of his central lessons from the war is "that we need to redefine the concept of defeating the enemy." That is to say, since he is incapable of winning a war, he prefers to define defeat as victory and remain at his post.
No doubt to his great relief, Halutz's frightening display of arrogant incompetence was in the end relegated to the inside pages of the newspapers. It was hard to devote column space to the professional collapse of the IDF's General Staff when the heads of Israel's Tax Authority and Olmert's bureau chief were being shuttled from police interrogation rooms to the court house for arraignment. The media and police spokespeople have emphasized that Shula Zaken's suspected involvement in massive corruption does not mean that Olmert had a role in the conspiracy. But whether Olmert played a role in the scheme to defraud the public trust or not, Zaken's suspected role in the plot indicates that a culture of criminal corruption apparently flourished inside of Olmert's office.
ON THEIR surface, neither Halutz's press conference nor the tax fraud scandal are connected to the Olmert government's hallucinatory policies towards Egypt. But in fact they are inextricably linked. The fact that Israel faces unprecedented threats to its security and very existence while it is being led by the most incompetent, corrupt leadership it has ever known is not coincidental.
To understand why this is the case it is necessary to recall how the current leaders came to be in their current positions in the first place.
In 2003, Ariel Sharon and his sons found themselves on the brink of political, economic and personal destruction. Criminal investigations of their alleged corruption were coming to a head and it was widely predicted that Sharon and his sons Omri and Gilad would all be indicted on felony charges. A way had to be found to step away from the abyss. After advising with Sharon's personal attorney and chief of staff Dov Weisglass, Sharon and his sons chose to protect themselves by adopting the Left's irrational strategy of destroying Israeli communities and giving their land to terrorists. That is how the policy of retreating from Gaza and northern Samaria and carrying out the mass expulsion of Israeli citizens from the areas was born.
Sharon's moral and criminal corruption, like the strategic insanity and danger inherent in the decision to transfer control of Gaza to Hamas and Fatah, were self-evident. And yet, as Sharon predicted, the media, law enforcement and judicial authorities which are dominated by the Left chose to ignore the truth. Overnight the media transformed Sharon from the corrupt politician to the visionary leader. As Amnon Abramovich, Channel 2's chief commentator explained, the media understood that corrupt or not, their job was to protect Sharon to make sure he threw the Jews out of Gush Katif. And as Supreme Court Justice Mishel Cheshin admitted in an interview upon his retirement, the Supreme Court justices would never have dreamed of acting against Sharon lest they endanger the withdrawal.
Senior officials, cabinet ministers and the IDF General Staff first heard of the withdrawal plan from the media. Those who dared to question the retreat policy were distanced from positions of influence. Then national security adviser Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland couldn't get an audience with Sharon.
Then the IDF's chief of general staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon was fired. And so it was that Halutz, a good friend of Omri's and a good pilot by all accounts, was promoted to replace Ya'alon - who although far more qualified than he to command the military, was far less obedient.
In the political arena, Sharon's advisers moved quickly to destroy his political opponents. Then finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu was demonized. Government ministers from Shas and the National Union were fired. In their place Sharon promoted obedient, opportunistic and inexperienced yes-men. So it was that Olmert and Tzipi Livni rose to the top positions in his cabinet.
In summary, Sharon's corruption caused him to adopt irrational strategic policies. Principled opposition to these policies voiced by senior public servants and politicians led to their removal from positions of influence. These competent public servants were then replaced by incompetents whose only qualification for their jobs was their total obedience to Sharon.
Sharon's defenders claim that he knew that the people he surrounded himself with after deciding to retreat from Gaza were incompetent to lead the country. But, they argue, Sharon did not foresee his stroke which placed these people in charge of the country. If he hadn't been incapacitated, they argue, everything would have turned out differently. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps not.
Whatever the case may be, the one obvious conclusion that can be drawn from the events of the past week and year without Sharon is that in order to forge competent, honest policies, Israel needs competent and honest leaders. And so to extricate itself from the morass of ineptitude and criminality that has become its public sector, Israel must find the way to rid ourselves of the current political and military leadership that embody both.
The good news is that we have an alternative leadership. It is made up of those principled public servants who were removed from positions of power for their refusal to deny the truth.