Analysis: A crisis of confidence

The Gilad Shalit saga has defined Olmert's first half-year in power.

Olmert pissed off 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert pissed off 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
Monday night will mark six months to the traumatic day that Ehud Olmert was handed the prime minister's powers in tragic circumstances. Olmert could be excused for believing that he has handled things pretty well until now, but whether he likes it not, the Gilad Shalit saga, now into its second week, has defined his first half-year in power and could well cast a pall over the next. The final resolution of Shalit's saga notwithstanding, it will take a Herculean effort on the part of Olmert and his cabinet to regain one of their most important assets, the confidence of the military and the intelligence establishment. "The IDF just follows the orders of the political level" is a recurring motto among the members of the General Staff. Usually it's used to emphasize the importance of the democratic chain of command, while in reality the relationship is much more elastic. This week, senior officers have been muttering it as an excuse for placing the blame elsewhere. From the military point of view, a group of inexperienced ministers had the temerity to order them to amass forces and prepare for a widespread and punishing operation, and then twice turn down the operational plans presented to them. They believe that the leaders' decisions are, at the very least, tainted by political considerations. The politicians are concerned that the army is trying to play down criticism of its conduct last week at the Kerem Shalom outpost by turning the spotlight on the politicians' inaction. All this is fueled by the latent hostility between Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz and by the suspicion between Peretz's office and the General Staff. The result of all these tensions boiling over could be seen in Friday's headlines, which consisted mainly of each side briefing the press against the other. Deep disagreements between the generals and their political masters have existed before, but never have they appeared out in the open and in real time like this. And it's not only about approval of operational plans. Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are also taking fire for their handling of the diplomatic side of the efforts to release Shalit, mainly for what is seen as overreliance on Egypt as a go-between. Officials who were uneasy with the way Olmert heaped praise on Hosni Mubarak's head at their meeting a month ago in Sharm e-Sheikh felt last week that the Egyptians were being given way too much credit to negotiate in Israel's name. The last-minute decision to postpone the second phase of Operation Summer Rains to facilitate the Egyptian mediation was seen as an extra unneeded humiliation, especially when Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman canceled his plans to arrive in Gaza and deal with matters on the spot. There was also disagreement over the importance of Israel's one major initiative, the arrest of over 60 Hamas leaders. While some heralded it as "putting the Hamas leadership out of business for the next couple of years," others sneered and noted that the real power within Hamas lies elsewhere, mainly with those directing Shalit's captors. But the crucial question for Israelis now is, where does the power lie here? Are those who are legally authorized to wield that power also confident enough to do so?