Forget politics, do your jobs

Israel simply cannot afford a defense minister who spends his time fighting for his political life rather than on a job critical to national security.

peretz profile walking g (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
peretz profile walking g
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Our media this week have been obsessed with the souring relations between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz. The widespread conclusion seems to be that Peretz should be and will be gently moved to another post - perhaps taking Shimon Peres's deputy prime minister spot while the latter is moved to the presidency. All of this may be somewhat entertaining, since personalities are generally more interesting than policies. It is more difficult, but more important, to address the underlying problem of a government that, in a time of multiple crises, is incapable of providing a modicum of strategic direction. In the diplomatic-military arena alone, five major challenges loom: stopping the daily Palestinian bombardments from Gaza; blocking the rearmament of Hizbullah and its bid to control Lebanon; shaping the international debate over regional peace-making efforts; rebuilding the IDF and our deterrent capacity in the wake of the Lebanon war; and addressing the refusal of the international community to effectively confront Iran. Any one of these challenges would require the government to function at its best. This means not only fully utilizing the planning and analysis apparatuses of the various bureaucracies, but employing the cabinet to set goals, review plans and take decisions in a serious and systematic manner. We understand that no government regularly operates with such a purity of policy focus, devoid of political infighting. Perhaps our current leaders are within the normal, unfortunately low, standards regarding the balance between politics and substance. Yet these are not normal times, and our current government seems particularly paralyzed by a combination of lack of direction and the dark clouds hanging over its key figures regarding their handling of the recent war. In this context, some have latched on to the idea of exchanging Amir Peretz for Ehud Barak, who at least, as former prime minister and IDF chief of General Staff, is undeniably qualified for the post. The problem with Barak, however, is what the Defense Ministry needs now is someone who will demand and oversee reforms within the IDF, not someone who might want to use the post as a platform for a political comeback. Again, however, what is important is not to focus on personalities, but on what the public should be demanding from its leaders. The problem is not Peretz per se, but that Israel simply cannot afford a defense minister spending much of his energy fighting for his political life rather than one who has the experience, skills, inclination and opportunity to devote nearly all of his time to an extraordinarily tough, challenging and sensitive job that is critical for our security. The same goes for the post of prime minister. The public needs to see that the nation's primary decision maker is capable of systematically addressing the five challenges we outlined above, not to mention such burning non-diplomatic matters as the economy, educational system, the Israeli Arab minority, religious-secular tensions, electoral reform, and so on. The irony is that so long as Olmert is seen to be "managing" in an ad-hoc way, attempting to put out political fires rather than coherently tackling critical issues, the more his downward political spiral will accelerate. Just one year ago, when Ariel Sharon founded Kadima, Israel's situation may not have objectively been more secure - just as the US enjoyed a false sense of security before 9/11. But now the government must take visible and concrete steps to increase both the reality and perception of our security. The major structural vulnerabilities exposed during the war against Hizbullah - including but by no means limited to the inadequate decision-making hierarchies and the absent forums in which to effectively digest, debate and draw operational conclusions on the basis of intelligence information - will not be remedied by the knee-jerk expedient of changing personalities at the top. Israel's well-being requires a far deeper internalizing of these flaws and their strategic correction. But if our current leaders are too busy attending to their own political survival to oversee this vital process of reform, a process that the anxious public is rightly demanding, then their political downfall is inevitable, regardless of whether it will improve matters or not.