Analysis: Livni is torn between the two Ehuds

Barak favors an all-out military campaign, Olmert is hesitant, and the FM is in the middle.

Livni cool 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Livni cool 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
With the security cabinet due to meet Wednesday to discuss and possibly decide on the objectives of Israel's military operations in the Gaza Strip, differences of opinion are emerging among the triumvirate running the country. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is coming out in favor of an all-out military campaign to stop the rocket fire and smash Hamas; Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is more hesitant, apparently gun-shy because of the Second Lebanon War and the criticism that followed; and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is where she often is - in the middle, torn between two Ehuds. Barak, who for months has kept an extremely low media profile, has in recent days spoken out much more, even agreeing to a rare radio interview on Sunday. In his comments, a common theme emerges: Israel will stop the rocket fire on the western Negev. Full stop. On Tuesday, during a tour of the North, Barak said, "Our obligation as a government is to return the quiet to Sderot. Israel will fulfill its obligations, even if this means that we need to increase the pressure on those firing the rockets." That Barak is speaking out more publicly is not coincidental; rather, he wants to be publicly identified with a policy - stopping the rocket fire - that if it succeeds, could very well give him a huge political boost. Olmert, however, is speaking in less absolute terms. He talks about a long process, and the need for fortitude and determination. He speaks, as he did Monday in the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, about reducing the rocket fire, not necessarily stopping it. "No one in the world knows how to stop projectile fire completely with just a short term operation," he said. "I believe that what we're doing will accomplish the government's goals, namely seriously reducing rocket fire and weakening Hamas to the point where it can no longer run the Strip." Olmert seems to have learned from the Second Lebanon War, when he put forward unrealistic goals that he could not deliver: bringing back Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, stopping the Katyusha rocket fire from south Lebanon and destroying Hizbullah's military capacity. This time he is not speaking in such absolute terms. Livni, though instinctively she leans to the more "moderate" approach, is in her rhetoric moving toward Barak - also a decision not divorced from political considerations. While Barak talks about ending the rocket fire, and Olmert speaks in terms of reducing it, Livni emphasizes "changing the equation," ensuring that Israel will set the rhythm and flow of events, not Hamas. "They are not going to be the ones who decide when to start targeting Israel and when to stop. We are going to change the rules of this game," Livni told foreign ambassadors on Monday. "We are not going to play according to their rules; we are not willing to accept this equation anymore." Livni's comments are a cross between Barak and Olmert. Like Olmert, she doesn't unequivocally say that the rockets will stop, but like Barak, she talks of Israel's overriding obligation to its citizens. If she, too, aligns herself with a tough line, and if it works, then Livni - like Barak - could reap significant political benefits.