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The latest revelation from the belatedly released Winograd Committee testimonies is Vice Premier Haim Ramon's claim that he did not favor a ground incursion into Lebanon in last year's war. He nevertheless voted for it during critical cabinet deliberations.
Ramon appeared before the committee investigating the Second Lebanon War last January, but transcripts of his statements were only made public at the end of last week. Asked to explain the glaring discrepancy between his opinions and his formal backing for what he purportedly opposed, he said he wished to show support for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "I thought it would greatly damage his authority and ability to lead during war, were even a sizable minority in the cabinet against his proposals."
This loyalty was reciprocated. Last week Olmert acknowledged that he had appointed Ramon, and new Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, "also because they are my friends, and friendship is important in politics." Perhaps it is, but public office is about standing up for the best interests of the public.
To later say, as Ramon told the committee, that he "very much didn't like" the war's outcome, is to insult the electorate's intelligence. Politicians cannot have it both ways - on the one hand, washing their hands clean and revelling months after the event in their prescient detection of Olmert's grievous errors, while on the other rationalizing the backing they nevertheless gave to his moves. What counts is not their hindsight, but their conduct in real time.
This goes not only for Ramon but for other ministers, notably Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and then-vice premier Shimon Peres. Taking responsibility for tough judgments on security matters that have a profound impact on citizens' lives is not a minor obligation. It's their fundamental duty.
It is hard to escape the impression that our leadership - both civilian and military - too often fails to take seriously this primary responsibility for the citizenry's welfare and safety.
Further evidence of this was supplied in the state comptroller's recent report on home front readiness in the same war. Ordinary folks were expected to withstand constant rocket barrages for over a month even though nothing was prepared - from shelters to food and medical supplies - to help them do so. Only the actions of a range of volunteers, who endangered their lives under fire, prevented the situation becoming immeasurably worse.
Rather than address himself to the appalling picture unveiled, Olmert opted for a two-pronged escape. He blamed the lack of preparedness on previous governments and lashed out at the comptroller. Yet Olmert was the second-highest member of the previous government and his automatic elevation to the premiership after Ariel Sharon's collapse was supposed to assure us of continuity.
If Olmert didn't know about the sorry state of the home front infrastructure, he was negligent. He was far worse than that if he knew yet imperiled noncombatants' lives. Calling the report "amateurish, superficial and pointless" doesn't wash.
A similarly deficient response came from OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon, who also blamed past governments and budgetary constraints. But pretexts notwithstanding, the fact is that the Home Front Command failed in its main obligations. It was charged, notably, with making sure shelters - both public and private - were habitable. They weren't. Yet no compulsory checks were carried out, and no one raised a squawk or demanded repairs.
Slinging mud at the comptroller absolves nobody of accountability. Lives were at stake, and fundamental responsibility for those lives was ducked at the national leadership level.
While reforms are plainly being implemented in the IDF, there is unfortunately no reason to believe that the government today is operating in a more coherent fashion than it was during the war. Indeed, if anything, the government is much more paralyzed now, given that it is struggling for political survival, than it was when it was acting with full public support.
Following the scathing Winograd and comptroller's reports, the government's prime shreds of legitimacy lie in its insistence that it is "implementing" the conclusions of those inquiries. Attacking the messenger rather than heeding the message amounts to stripping away even those last claims to legitimacy.
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