Middle Israel: The first to resign

Today's situation demands that a key player in the series of failures that have cost us so much resign.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
This column was written prior to the announced resignation of OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam. Last Saturday, for the first time since 1982, I attended a political rally. Having driven down from Jerusalem I joined thousands of Middle Israelis, from super-hawk Moshe Arens to ultra-liberal Yossi Sarid, who flocked to Kikar Rabin united by the demand for a judicial commission of inquiry into the summer's failed war. As I listened to the crowd express in banners, chants, jeers and applause its disgust over our leaders' failure to assume responsibility for the fiasco over which they presided, I recalled Ya'acov Shimshon Shapira. A strong-willed jurist, Shapira's first claim to fame came as our first attorney-general, a role in which he consolidated that powerful office's independence, in his insistence that he needed no one's approval before indicting government officials. Having been loyal to Levi Eshkol during his titanic struggle with David Ben-Gurion, Shapira was appointed justice minister in '63 - a position he held for the next decade, and in fact would have filled even longer had it not been for some unexpected events. In October '73, while the Yom Kippur War's battles were still raging, Shapira stunned Golda Meir by announcing his resignation. Initially that resignation seemed odd, and at any rate mistimed, but in hindsight it set the standard that eventually was demanded of all the Yom Kippur War's key decision-makers. Today's situation demands its own Shapira, a key player in the series of failures that have cost us so much in human lives, military deterrence, material damage and international stature. Who will it be? IN AN ideal world, today's Shapira would be the prime minister himself. Sadly, that would not be in keeping with Israeli tradition. While military setbacks unseated Golda, Begin and Barak, all three made the mistake of initially clinging to power and eventually meeting the public's wrath. Golda could have assumed responsibility the morning after the cease-fire in fall '73, but waited instead to see and hear the steadily growing and eventually unbearable crowds outside her office demand her departure. Begin, too, could have admitted that he had been tricked into a war he did not seek, and thus avoided facing the demonstrators who confronted him every morning with big placards that updated the IDF's latest casualty figures. And Barak should have detected the terrorized public's fury, rather than arrive at the '01 election from which he emerged with the worst electoral trouncing ever seen here. Olmert is apparently intent on pursuing the same course. The acrobatics in which he has engaged in an effort to avoid an independent judicial inquiry have been as twisted and transparent as they will ultimately prove futile. What began with a bizarre inquiry committee appointed by the defense minister only to soon be self-dissolved, proceeded to the prime minister's own appointment of duplicate committees with the apparent intention of pitting them against each other. At the same time, the state comptroller was astonished to learn from the press of his appointment as head of a third investigation committee. Meanwhile, the committees were staffed, among others, by the CEO of the government-held Rafael company, and the local representative of Boeing. When those two were disqualified by the attorney-general for conflicts of interest, it was reported that the wife of the man Olmert appointed to head the committee had previously worked for Olmert. The next day the prime minister duly replaced the committee head with a retired Supreme Court judge. How did Olmert and Peretz think they could get away with appointments of grossly interested parties? Maybe we should also have Haim Ramon and Moshe Katsav probe each other's alleged sexual misconducts? Worse yet, how can we not suspect that the inconsistency, self-service and shooting from the hip with which Olmert's inquiry farce was laden also characterized the way the war that preceded it was conducted? Clearly, Olmert still hopes that somehow the public will move on with its daily life and let bygones be bygones. Had he attended Kikar Rabin Saturday night he might have known better, but Olmert will not leave the scene as nobly as Ya'acov Shimshon Shapira did back in '73. He has chosen to leave the way his friend Ehud Barak did in '01, in defeat and disgrace, and that's a choice history will surely respect. AMIR PERETZ has also chosen to cling on to power's nipples. In an elaborate interview to Yediot Aharonot's Sima Kadmon last week, the defense minister could not think of anything (!) he did wrong during this war. In a clumsy effort to change the subject, he insinuated that people's problem with him is not his ineptitude, but his lack of a military career, and in an act of supreme thanklessness he blamed the media for having "embarked on a wall-to-wall campaign against me." Curiously enough, Peretz had no compunctions when much of that same media celebrated with equal zeal his conquest of Labor not as the major exercise in vote theft that it was, but as the Israeli version of the storming of the Bastille, that it wasn't. Peretz also conveniently forgets that people actually recall fondly civilian defense ministers Ben-Gurion, Eshkol, Peres and Arens. Then, as if to remind us that he has lost none of his ineptitude and conceit, Peretz offered yet another memorable Peretzism, declaring: "In my approach, when an Arab leader says he is not afraid of war, one has to see in this actually the very opposite, that maybe he is actually calling for the launch of a diplomatic process." By this rationale, we should beg him to stay in his job; maybe that will make him resign. Then again, there is no need, because Peretz's departure will surely arrive, even though in Israel resignations are generally out of the question. In a culture that sees in the perks, prestige and power that come with public office aims rather than means, people have a hard time understanding just what in the world can justify their voluntary abandonment of such hard-won booty; they are, after all, the same Israelis who as drivers will accelerate rather than allow another car to overtake them on the highway, no matter what the circumstances. On the face of it, they always get away with this bullying, but then the day arrives when they abruptly stop speeding, honking, blinding and cursing, and in fact altogether leave the highway - on a stretcher. IT IS not too late for at least one of this war's protagonists to emulate old Ya'acov Shimshon Shapira, and leave the highway walking on his legs, humbly but nobly. And since that man will be neither Olmert nor Peretz, the only viable candidate for that kind of repentance is Dan Halutz. Though the chief of staff is himself notoriously arrogant, it must be said in his favor that in recent weeks he has disappeared. Maybe he has already sobered up from the personality cult with which some celebrated him following the retreat from Gaza, which he led. The fact is that the retreat plans had been there prior to Halutz's arrival; the fact is that his appointment was as unnatural as his predecessor's dismissal was scandalous; and the fact is that the Gaza retreat was peaceful not because of Halutz's wisdom, but because of the settlers' resolve to avoid bloodshed. Then, when it came time to do the chief of staff's real work, which is to prepare the army for war, Halutz wasn't there. In this regard, he is even more to blame than his superiors. And so, if he wants to leave his office on a positive note, he should resign now, and thus touch off the healing process our leadership so glaringly begs. Ya'acov Shimshon Shapira resigned for a much lesser role in an equally failed leadership.