Middle Israel: After Olmert

Ehud Olmert's improbable premiership is fast approaching its sad, premature and abrupt end.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
Ehud Olmert's improbable premiership is fast approaching its sad, premature and abrupt end. Though he will not go down without a fight, and while he can be counted on to attack his critics with all the verbal darts he so impressively hurled at Hizbullah, Olmert is likely to learn that just as his eloquence could not finish off Nasrallah, it will not suffice to save his own political career. Too much has happened. I don't know how many combat soldiers Olmert's immediate family has had in the battlefield, but Middle Israelis have had in this war countless relatives, neighbors, friends and colleagues whose very deployment, not to mention the high number of casualties among them, deserved more than what Olmert delivered. Strategically, Olmert's self-congratulatory rhetoric regarding "unprecedented" accomplishments first sounded premature, then proved unfounded. Yes, we have distanced Hizbullah from the border, killed many of its troops and damaged much of its firepower. Yet Nasrallah has survived what should have been his last day, and is now busy further radicalizing the Arab world and undoing the already disappointing French-American deal for south Lebanon. Even more ominously, Olmert is showing no signs of conceding that convergence, the plan with which he paraded like a peacock in major capitals soon after his election, has now been exposed as an utterly futile idea. Militarily, our performance has been inconsistent and chaotic. Judging by his pronouncements surrounding the effective removal of OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam, Olmert may be planning to blame the military for the war's disappointing stewardship. It's a strategy he had better avoid. BACK IN SPRING '67 Levi Eshkol held the military's horses for three nerve-wracking weeks, resisting the pressures, abuse and bellicosity of machos like Ariel Sharon and Ezer Weizman, because he would not wage war until absolutely confident that the IDF knew what it was doing. Olmert, who failed to follow this example before the war, is now emulating Golda Meir, whose insistence after the '73 debacle that she had merely followed her generals' advice made her lose even more face with an already fuming public. Olmert would do well to understand that this war's many military failures - from the over-reliance on air power through the procrastination with the ground offensive to the shortage in imaginative attacks and logistical delivery - were his. Even more scandalous was his government's administrative autism. The initial failure to even recognize the need to feed and relocate the bombardments' intended targets, and the eventual arrival of private enterprise in this vacuum, cannot be ascribed to the military. The failure is all this government's, leaving us no choice but to conclude that Olmert simply did not take into account a scenario whereby so many rockets are fired for so long at so many Israelis. In the past, the Israeli public responded furiously, and deposed prime ministers, for a lot less than all this. The question, therefore, is not whether Olmert will survive this crisis, but what will follow once he is made to pay for the frivolity, escapism, elitism, opportunism, hedonism and conceit with which he has been frequently associated. THE MORE likely winner to emerge from the current mayhem is Binyamin Netanyahu, particularly if he manages to mend walls with Avigdor Lieberman, whose exclusion from this government Olmert must now lament. The Netanyahu-Lieberman brand of secular conservatism, which blends a concern for Israel's demographic balance with a deep suspicion of its neighbors, can now be expected to win over more hearts. Millions of Israelis have just been through an experience that can lead them nowhere but rightward. Olmert can certainly forget about obtaining even a wry smile from the thousands of immigrants who've spent the past weeks fathoming smoke pillars and sustaining boom after boom in working-class neighborhoods across the North. Those are now all the New Right's to keep. Similarly, the burgeoning effort to blame this war's outcome on the budget cuts imposed by Netanyahu as finance minister can be expected to impress no one. also can't seriously make this argument, since it consistently demanded even deeper cuts, which it said should finance social spending. Secondly, it takes no expert to understand that in this war we had the quantitative edge. The failure, for instance, to supply the Alexandroni Brigade with water for 36 hours did not stem from a lack of water, but from the lack of a master plan for this war, which was improvised as it unfolded because the politicians failed to scrutinize the generals who, in turn, had failed to prepare the complex ground operations the politicians' aims demanded. If anything, Bibi's already widely appreciated record as finance minister should now be even more admired, considering the economy's impressive endurance of this war. Now, by avoiding personal attacks on Olmert even after the cease-fire had gone into effect, Netanyahu displayed the kind of responsibility and poise that he failed to deploy in the past, just when his career demanded them. The Netanyahu-Lieberman duo would redefine Israel's strategic priorities so that the current borders are consolidated until peaceful democrats emerge beyond them. This is what these two have long contended, and what more Middle Israelis will now back. While all this transpires in the political jungle that lies to Kadima's Right, a separate scavengers' fest will unfold in the savannas that stretches to its Left. AMIR PERETZ's chances of surviving the war he rushed to wage are not much better than Olmert's. The union leader who ran on a neo-Marxist ticket, promising to slash the defense budget, summarily abandoned that promise once that budget became his. Then, once war broke out, he spoke almost as arrogantly as a junta leader after a successful coup. His promise that Nasrallah would never forget the name Amir Peretz now seems one of this war's most emblematic moments of hollow bluster. In reality Nasrallah has probably already forgotten Peretz, and soon enough so will we. Now, parallel to the strategic debate that is likely to be nurtured by people like Netanyahu, Lieberman, Yuval Steinitz and Moshe Arens, there will also be a civic debate, one that will ask how a man as ill-equipped as Amir Peretz arrived at a position as sensitive as the minister of defense, why agencies malfunctioned when they were needed most, why Israeli governments are so big, inept, and unstable, why there is such a high ministerial turnover, and how much all this costs us nationally. This debate can best be led by Labor's Avishay Braverman; not only because he has clear ideas about how to improve Israeli governance and make MKs accountable, but because this university-president-turned-backbencher is not a product of this decaying political system. The fact that he was sidelined by Peretz as he selected Labor's ministers, besides highlighting this entire political system's scorn for merit, also left Braverman owing Peretz nothing. He must now charge and defeat the man who only last spring so memorably and ungratefully humiliated him. WHICH OF THE two agendas, the strategic or the civic, succeeds the Kadima episode will be largely determined by the extent to which the North remains quiet in the upcoming months. If hostilities resume soon, people are likely to heed Netanyahu's quest for strategic restoration; and if the North remains quiet for several months, then the ensuing public wrath can generate the kind of civic introspection that followed the Yom Kippur War. In other words, our political focus in the coming months will be shaped, even if passively, by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. And this alone should be reason enough for both Olmert and Peretz to humbly step down.