Analysis: Olmert's flak jacket

PM playing to an "anything but Netanyahu" sentiment and peace process to deflect Winograd C'tee fallout.

olmert smile 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert smile 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is nobody's fool. If people thought that Olmert would just sit back - as the buzzards hovered above - and wait for the Winograd Committee to release its final findings, then they did not know Olmert. In the last week, as his opponents were mobilizing, as Kadima rivals were scheming, as reservists and bereaved families were lobbying, Olmert wasn't exactly sitting around doing nothing. He returned fire, but did so subtly, and not ineffectively. The Final Winograd Report: All the latest news and analyses In his battle to hang on to power after the Winograd Committee releases its report on Wednesday, Olmert can count on three layers of defense: his many friends - in politics, industry and the media - whom he has accumulated and cultivated during some 35 years of politics; an anti-Netanyahu coalition; and the diplomatic process. Over the last week, in what seems like a concerted effort, each of these three layers was activated on his behalf. First his friends. The night after a group of company and platoon commanders issued a letter calling for Olmert's resignation, Vice Premier Haim Ramon - Olmert's good friend - took to Channel 10 and praised Olmert for the government's decision- making process on security matters, using last September's reported attack on an alleged nuclear installation in Syria as an example. "You all heard, from foreign sources, what happened at the beginning of September in Syria," Ramon said. "The process of decision-making ahead of the event was, according to everyone involved in it, extraordinary in terms of deliberations, organization, preparation and considering the alternatives." This was the most extensive public admission to date by a high-level Israeli official of any Israeli action in Syria in September. Another high-profile figure, opposition head Binyamin Netanyahu, made reference to it in late September, saying only that he had been in on the plans, and was later pilloried for these remarks in the press. Ramon got much gentler treatment. Then there are Olmert's friends in the media. Yediot Aharonot published on Friday transcripts from the Winograd Committee hearings, apparently leaked by officials close to Olmert, in which his decision to embark on the final large ground operation was defended. And then there is Olmert's second level of defense, an anti-Netanyahu bent among many in the land. Olmert played to this sentiment during his speech last week at the Herzliya Conference, seemingly warning the public that if he goes, the alternative is much, much worse. "I have no intention of letting go, no matter the political and personal cost. Believe me, I am experienced enough and keen-sighted enough to see all the ties and collaborations of those swooping in with insatiable political lust on the blood of our sons, of those who assist from within and those who support from outside - and all for the purpose of taking away from our people its chance for a new horizon," he said. "Our people - a people longing for an opportunity of light at the end of the dark tunnels which cloud our joie de vivre - is a wise people. It knows who speaks the truth and who does not. It knows who speaks from the heart and who speaks out of insatiable lust for authority and power." Although Olmert mentioned no one by name, his subtext was clear, and played to a sentiment held by many: anybody but Netanyahu. The last line of defense for Olmert is the diplomatic process. The prime minister met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday - a reminder to all who may have forgotten, due to recent events in Gaza, that there is indeed a diplomatic process in motion. To a large extent, it doesn't matter whether the process has any chance in the world of succeeding. The very fact that there is a process under way serves the prime minister's interests. "Let me say at the outset: there is not, nor will there be, any political, party or personal consideration which will deflect me from the effort of reaching a political arrangement with the Palestinian Authority," Olmert said, again at the Herzliya Conference. No big shock, therefore, that Peace Now's director-general Yariv Oppenheimer has sent a letter to members of Labor's executive committee and the party's branch heads calling upon Defense Minister Ehud Barak to keep Labor in the government in order to advance the peace process. "Olmert's departure under the current circumstances would bring about new elections and paralyze the political system for six months to a year," Oppenheimer wrote. "This would undermine stability and end all the processes the government has began over the past two years, including Annapolis. Labor must remain in the government out of national responsibility." Friends; playing to an "anything but Netanyahu" sentiment; and the peace process constitute the flak jacket Olmert is using to deflect the Winograd Committee fallout.