Electionscape: Olmert's Osirak?

Menachem Begin sent a bunch of Labor-voting kibbutznik pilots to bomb the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq and bring back a election victory for the Likud. So the saying went during the 1981 election campaign. Indeed, Shimon Peres was quick to say the timing of the attack was politically motivated. There is no shortage of conspiracy theorists willing to believe the US and Britain timed the removal of their monitors from the Jericho jail yesterday to boost Kadima's campaign, but aside from Palestinian spokesmen and a few voices on the far-right and left- fringes, they weren't to be heard yesterday. Although it seems that the considerations behind the Jericho operation were purely operational, the timing couldn't have been more perfect for Olmert. After the round of newspaper interviews over the weekend that showed him at his most leftward position yet - determined to pull out of most of the West Bank and determine Israel's permanent borders, Olmert tilted rightward this week. It began with his announcement that despite US opposition, the police station would be built in the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim. Next on the schedule was the visit to Ariel, including a promise that the town and its surroundings would remain a part of Israel. And Wednesday he's meeting a delegation of settlers from Gush Etzion who will receive similar assurances. The Jericho operation has apparently been weeks, if not months, in the planning, but what a wonderful coincidence for Olmert, the perfect crescendo for his right-wing week. How can the Likud attack him now? The best MK Yuval Steinitz could come up with was that "the right hand attacks while the left retreats." Even the National Union MKs were left speechless by the capture of the killers of their late leader Rehavam Ze'evi. Some of them said quietly that it was "too little, too late," but even they realized that they sounded like spoilsports. Nor could the Zionist Left criticize the operation, aside from a lame complaint by Yossi Beilin that Israel should have tried to negotiate first with Mahmoud Abbas. Amir Peretz congratulated the government, sounding rather pathetic when he said, "Labor under my leadership is a full partner in the battle against terror." Many of his colleagues in Labor would paraphrase that as the hope to be a "full partner" in the Olmert coalition. So is Olmert schizophrenic - one week relinquishing 90 percent of the West Bank, and the next week promising to annex Ariel and sending the IDF into Jericho? He's merely attempting an impossible balancing act - holding together Kadima's illogical electoral base just long enough, the 30%-plus of the voters who, according to the polls, are an improbable mix of centrist-left Shinui voters, Left-lite Laborites, a small number of real-Left Meretzniks and, of course, Likudniks fed up with their old party and loyal to Arik Sharon's memory. Last week, Olmert was busy making sure Kadima's leftwing supporters wouldn't leave after the flurry of corruption allegations against him and Omri Sharon. He reminded them that if they're interested in a pullback from at least part of the settlements, Kadima is their only ticket. This week, he made sure that his right flank was also secured. With 13 days to go until the elections, Olmert will be walking a thinner and thinner line, but the successful military operation under his leadership gives him at least 24 hours of breathing space.