For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse, the rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost. I never imagined I'd find myself lamenting Shimon Peres's defeat by Amir Peretz. But infallible hindsight vision unerringly identifies Peres as none but the missing horseshoe nail that messed us up royally. Significant consequences, apparent only in retrospect, arise from chains of causality that might have been avoidable. Had a less-overconfident Peres coaxed only several hundred more smug Labor veterans to vote for him in the party leadership primary, none of today's political shenanigans would have manifested themselves with the awesome potential of impacting on our whole national future. A gracious, falsely modest Peres would then have profusely thanked his supporters and meekly submitted himself to what once was euphemistic in Labor parlance as din hatnua - the movement's decree. In the merry old days of Mapai (Labor's erstwhile moniker) most of us thought Israeli politicking could descend to no danker nadir than the din hatnua hypocrisy. Naively we considered it rock bottom, only to inevitably discover lower strata beneath what we assumed to be the absolute pits. In those bygone days the ambition of every ambitious politician was to appear unambitious. Politicians toiled mightily to camouflage self-interest, seem unassuming and persuade others that the last thing they covet is power and influence. The de-rigueur affectation was to shy away from honor and fame. Those who emerged top of the heap always made a big to-do about being forced, against their innermost inclinations, into positions of prominence by way of reluctant deference to the decree of the movement - din hatnua. Now that Peres has been prevented from resorting to old-time staple insincerity, no one's left to pretend that anything but personally motivated machinations trigger political upheavals. Principle - even when wanly claimed - is absent. IDEALS obviously weren't the sole factor at play even yesteryear, but they were potent nevertheless. Today it's all about expediency. Thus the party founded by Jabotinsky debates whether it pays to be seen as more or less nationalist, the overnight political wonder launched by Sharon prides itself on saying nothing to all people, and Berl Katznelson's movement has evidently blundered into a Marxist blind alley via the accident of Peres's overthrow. Had the latter not occurred, Labor would have remained the familiar preserve of the contented, well-off elitist establishment. A victorious Peres, happy to continue globe-trotting as Sharon's vice premier, wouldn't have had cause to pull his portfolio-laden faction from the shrunken coalition. Without stinging humiliation he'd have had no reason to see the light, rally to Sharon's banner and proclaim him the sole hope for the "New Middle East." Sharon would have had no pretext to set off his "big bang." No early elections would have been called. Undeserving Likud backbenchers, whom Sharon rewarded for abandoning their party's platform, would eventually be swearing loyalty to Jabotinsky's maximalist ethos. The same with the Laborites Sharon lured. Had Haim Ramon, Dalia Itzik et al., brighter prospects they'd have stayed put as Katznelson's disciples. But Peres's loss became their loss. Up Labor's creek without a paddle, they had little choice but to grasp for Sharon's lifeline. As things transpired, Peres's ignominy made a whole lot of opportunism possible. A Peres win would have denied Prof. Avishay Braverman a political bandwagon and we wouldn't have heard Peretz's finance minister-designate sing his own praises so unreservedly without explaining how he'd marry populism with free enterprise. Another professor, Uriel Reichman, would have remained Shinui's guru instead of telling us he wouldn't have joined Sharon were it not for the PM's undertaking to appoint him education minister. So much for high-mindedness. No more din hatnua. It's individual advantage or nothing - i.e. Shaul Mofaz. Such undisguised self-interest is bound to affect internal party processes. Sharon brazenly trampled the notion of majority rule and tolerance for dissident opinions. He disregarded the Likud referendum and punished disobedient ministers. He isn't bound by mundane obligations to specify his plans to the electorate. They're none of its business. According to his concept of democracy, the voters' duty is merely to follow, applaud and trust their elevated strongman to see what lowly commoners can't. For his part, Peretz parades as the commoners' champion. He hijacked the Labor aggregate in their name by exploiting Histadrut infrastructure, organizational clout and large extortionist ultra-ruthless unions to produce instant party-members and primary votes. Ehud Barak was right to charge that Labor's rolls were full of bogus newcomers who skewed the primary. Even the party's in-house judiciary agreed. Thus the membership drive hanky-panky, which preceded Labor's primary and determined who could cast ballots in it, wasn't a mere domestic scandal irrelevant beyond Labor's context. Looking back, we realize that it loosened the fateful nail. It enabled an autocrat (with unrevealed aims) and a demagogue (who may not quite know where he'll storm next) to plunge Israeli politics into perilous depths, where there's little more than pseudo-democratic posturing. The real thing - including respect for rivals, open-mindedness towards opposing views, honest disclosure, accountability, adherence to professed ideology and, yes, even to din hatnua - cannot be found in the irredeemably cynical abyss. We fell into it so abruptly, headlong and helplessly, all for the want of a horseshoe nail - only because Peres failed, yet again, to break his losing streak. Thereafter the entire ensuing commotion has been nothing but shamelessly ego-driven.