The real earthquakes are yet to come

The PM's future depends on his will power and on the government's cohesion, but above all on the public.

olmert 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
olmert 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
On April 1, 1974, the Agranat Commission of Inquiry published its 40-page Interim Report on the Yom Kippur War. The report recommended the dismissal of chief of staff David Elazar, praised prime minister Golda Meir, and cleared defense minister Moshe Dayan of individual responsibility. The report did mention Dayan's "ministerial responsibility," but described this responsibility as public and political matter. The anti-Dayan rallies brought about his resignation. Golda decided to follow and a new era began in June 1974 with the nomination of a new prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. On Monday the Winograd Committee put the blame in a harsh and detailed interim report on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz, and former chief of staff Dan Halutz. The latter is already out of the system. Peretz's future as minister of defense is doomed, but Labor voters will make the decision about his future as a political leader in a few weeks. Olmert's future is far from being clear yet.
Judge Eliahu Winograd emphasized that his committee drew "personal conclusions" but not "personal recommendations." The time of such recommendations may come with the final report. One thing that may help Olmert is the fact that although focusing on the trio, the commission put the blame on everybody: the cabinet, the Knesset, and IDF generals other than Halutz. Numerous predecessors - including prime ministers, defense ministers, and IDF generals - are also blamed. Special attention is put on the withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 and on the way in which the decision to leave was implemented. It seems that such comments by the commission hurt Ehud Barak - a bitter rival of Peretz in the coming Labor primaries - more than they hurt other past leaders. In addition the report followed the path paved by the Agranat Commission, explaining the problematic conceptzia that dictated wrong decisions. While in the pre-1973 war era, the general perception was that the probability of war was very slim because of the superiority of the Israeli Air Force and other reasons, this time it was the belief - shared by so many - that the "era of war is over." The commission refrains from pointing at any individuals on the issue of this hot potato. Other wrong perceptions were that ground battles are not as crucial as they used to be, that ground forces would be used almost exclusively in "low-intensity" conflicts, and that Israel would not initiate a war. The Winograd Committee, which focused so far on the events preceding the war and on the first five days of the conflict, describes in detail a long lists of "failures," "mistakes" and "shortcomings." These include first and foremost problematic decision-making processes at all levels. The three leaders, the government and the IDF refrained from examining different alternatives, lacked most relevant information, and did not investigate the correlation between means and goals or even the very feasibility of strategic and tactical plans. The report also points at failures in preparation of the forces, control over them during the war, and the whole process of management on both the military and political levels. Winograd opened his presentation by emphasizing the need not only to learn from the past, but also to draw constructive lessons for the future. Many of the conclusions proposed had to do with the involvement of existing and new institutions in decision-making processes. The question of whether these lessons will remain slogans, or rather be implemented in a helpful manner, remains unanswered. Olmert's future depends on, among other factors, the strength of his will, the cohesion of Kadima and the coalition, his control over Kadima and the government and on the nature and scope of public and media reactions. For the time being, all these are controllable. Olmert's fate will be decided not only by immediate reactions to the Winograd Committee's interim report but also by other developments, such as the investigations against him - not to mention the next scheduled drama: Labor's primaries at the end of May. We certainly had much ado about something on Monday, but the real earthquakes are yet to come. The writer is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University