Analysis: Is it Peretz's Eshkol moment?

The defense minister is pressured to quit a job in which he's perceived to be failing dismally.

peretz gestures 298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
peretz gestures 298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On May 28, 1967, shortly before the Six-Day War, prime minister and defense minister Levi Eshkol took to the radio waves to deliver a message to the nation. Already perceived as a hesitant decision maker, that image of Eshkol was cemented after he stuttered dismally throughout the speech. A short time later, amid Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser's continued provocations, Eshkol succumbed to public opinion and appointed military leader Moshe Dayan as his defense minister. Defense Minister Amir Peretz is in a similar situation today - pressured to give up a job in which he is perceived to be failing dismally. Unlike Eshkol, however, it wouldn't be the prime ministership he would fall back on if he left the Defense Ministry, but whatever "social" portfolio he could extract from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. On the one hand, Peretz cannot be blamed for all the mishaps and failures of the war in Lebanon. But on the other hand, the public and his own Labor Party members have lost their faith in him as their defense chief. It is time, Minister Eitan Cabel and one of Peretz's closest advisers argued Thursday, for Peretz to vacate the Defense Ministry, like Eshkol did, in place of someone who can reinstate a sense of security for a troubled nation. No one believes that the appointment of former prime minister Ehud Barak or former defense minister Shaul Mofaz in place of Peretz would automatically stop the Kassam fire from the Gaza Strip, eliminate the Hizbullah threat in Lebanon or prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But there is a widespread sense that such an appointment could help put a line under the summer's war failures and the uncertainty of the response to the Kassam attacks and the Iranian threat. Even if Peretz were to come up with innovative and brilliant solutions to address the various threats, his credibility in the post may already be too gravely damaged to repair. Peretz is in a quandary. With even trusted colleagues like Cabel calling for his resignation and journalists asking him on a daily basis when he plans to leave office, Peretz is finding it hard to stay on as defense minister. The looming Labor Party primaries don't help either and some of his advisers are suggesting he take on a new super-welfare portfolio and work to restore his image as a fighter for social justice - thus increasing his chances of being reelected as the party's chairman. But if he were to bow out from his defense post, essentially hounded out of the post and perceived as a failure, Peretz would find it difficult to mount another bid for prime minister. How could he convince the public that he has the experience and the talent needed when, in resigning, he would have effectively acknowledged that the post of defense chief had defeated him. Prime Minister Olmert's office has hardly helped matters, of course. It ran a campaign to undermine Peretz over his let'stry-to-move-forward phone call to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert's people did not merely make Peretz look disloyal for placing the call to Abbas without coordinating it first with Olmert. They painted an image of a defense minister insufficiently responsible, experienced or competent to make the call at all.