Double Trouble

The war blurred the borders between the home front and the front lines.

Olmert 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Olmert 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
They say that love is sweeter the second time around. But love is sweet even the first time. Many things do not improve because of a double dosage. How many Hollywood sequels really match up to the original movies? And when it comes to war... Well, Lebanon I was enough for all of us this side of the border; Lebanon II definitely did not provide an improved experience. And, I suspect that polls will quickly show that Version 2.0 of Olmert's government, getting off to a bumpy start as these lines are being written, will prove no more popular than the first round, in which he had the lack of foresight to place Amir Peretz in the Defense Ministry mainly as a means of forestalling the promotion of potential rivals for the party leadership within his own list. This leads me to the question of whether Kadima as a party will even make it to a second round of general elections while both Labor's Ehud Barak, who recently re-emerged for a second bout, and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu - two former prime ministers - are promising they have learned from their past mistakes. AND THIS brings me back to what is now officially known as Lebanon II, which is on everyone's mind at the moment. The war, whose first anniversary has just passed according to the Hebrew calendar, was a strong blow to the national psyche. We have bounced back, as we always do - it's a Zionist trick to rile our many enemies - but while the outer wounds have healed, the tissue underneath is still tender. The intervening year has not been a good one for the state as a whole. A year ago, the Katsav Affair (or "affairs" it now seems) was a distraction: a sexy story at the beginning of what is known in Hebrew as Onat hamelafefonim - the cucumber season - the "silly season" when even the Israeli media thirst for something juicy. The outbreak of the war on July 12, 2006, put the Katsav case on hold as far as the public was concerned. The bolt out of the blue - or more to the point, the Katyushas out of Lebanon and the abductions of IDF soldiers - changed the agenda and changed our lives and way of thinking. This first year since "The War" has been similar to a textbook case of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance - we haven't gotten over our loss of a sense of security but we have learned to live with it and are coping in the aftermath. Even the families of the 119 soldiers and 44 civilians killed in the conflict are probably discovering that - after the initial shock of finding the sun still shining as they buried their dead - its warmth and rays can actually reach them on occasion, although they'll never stop mourning and missing their loved ones. AN EXPERT on the American Jewish community who recently addressed the Post's editorial staff pointed out the fact that one of the major differences between Israel and America is the fact that on Memorial Day in the US the nation goes shopping whereas on Remembrance Day in Israel the country literally comes to a halt as the sirens call for a minute of silence. Almost every Israeli above a certain age, he noted, can conjure up the vision of at least one person they have known who has been killed in conflict. Media broadcasts ensure that everyone knows the stories of soldiers who have fallen - this year's stories included the remarkable life and death of Maj. Ro'i Klein, who died with the traditional Shema Yisrael prayer on his lips as he threw himself onto a grenade to save his men. Klein's heroic sacrifice touched a raw nerve at a time when the country's elected were displaying a stunning lack of leadership qualities and chief-of-staff Dan Halutz had actually been found to have sold stocks as the war broke out. The leadership issue has haunted the country throughout the year. Not by chance were the two speakers at the official memorial service on the first anniversary of the war - Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi - replacements for men forced to quit their posts in the wake of the war. And not surprisingly most of the media attention was focused on the absence of Olmert from the ceremony. It was as if he lacked the courage to face the families - not exactly the characteristic of a leader. Both Halutz and Olmert apparently did not have the strength of their convictions - and that left all of us weaker. Former top gun Halutz, instead of running the war and placing faith in his concept that the air force could quickly prevail, displayed an appalling lack of faith in those same forces fighting for the lives of us all, while Olmert - who had good reason to believe the war would be short and victory sweet - couldn't tell the nation that the dead were dead not because he killed them, but because Hizbullah's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and his friends in Damascus and Teheran had launched an offensive. Ahead of the anniversary, there was also an extraordinarily painful debate between the families of fallen soldiers and the families of civilians killed in the war concerning whether one ceremony should be held for both: The war blurred the borders between the home front and the front lines. Did a soldier who fell in the line of duty in Lebanon deserve more respect than an Israel Railways worker who was killed as he tried to keep the trains running at home? A YEAR later, it is business as usual. And as usual, politics dominates. On July 1, Barak again threatened/promised to pull Labor from the government if Olmert fails to resign when the Winograd Committee publishes its full report - whenever that might be. Netanyahu, meantime, is pushing for early primary elections within the Likud. And the cabinet is playing musical chairs totally out of tune with public sentiment (which, at least on the Jerusalem buses I travel on, would (a) prefer stability and (b) rather Haim Ramon, convicted just a few months ago on a sexual harassment charge, not be appointed vice prime minister at a time when Katsav is all but being lynched). Olmert's well-honed sense of political survival has, however, enabled him to - at least for now - keep his coalition alive (albeit struggling). But his political enemies are just waiting for an opportunity to trip him up. And it does not bode well that his No. 2 (Ramon) hates his defense minister (Barak) and his defense minister would like nothing more than a second chance in the prime minister's seat. Olmert has temporarily gained a second chance to form the government. It won't take long to see whether a second round means second best. Olmert is fighting the political battle of his life while Judge Eliahu Winograd is preparing his report and recommendations following last summer's war in the North. A case of double jeopardy? The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.