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Contentions

Olmert’s House of Cards

On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert survived three no-confidence motions in the Knesset: one after the Winograd Report (only the executive summary is available in English) pronounced him a failure, another after his second-in-command, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, called on him to resign, and a third after over 100,000 people filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to send him the same message.

Clearly, extreme unpopularity will not in itself induce Olmert to step down. He will only resign when forced to do so by the Knesset or by his own party, Kadima. His Kadima colleagues, at least for the time being, seem content to go down with Olmert’s ship. And Kadima’s coalition partners also would rather risk being tainted by Olmert than facing the voters in new elections.

And so the government continues to stand, like a house of cards waiting to fall. Or more specifically, waiting for the completion of the Winograd Report this summer. The current report covered the period between Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and Hezbollah’s deadly attack on July 12, 2006, as well as the first five days of the war. This was the period during which Olmert still had full public and even international support. But the report was scathing on his government’s complete lack of tactical and strategic planning, a lack that became rapidly evident from day one of the war.

The next part of the report will cover the even more problematic period when Israel’s military and political leadership created expectations it could not fulfill: destroying Hezbollah and ending the daily missile barrages against northern Israel. This second part is likely to be even more painful: it will make clear that a last-ditch ground offensive was ordered with no real military objective, but rather was aimed at restoring Israel’s collapsing position in the UN Security Council.

Worst of all for Olmert, Judge Winograd more than hinted that, unlike the interim report, the final document could well contain “personal recommendations”—a euphemism for a direct call for the prime minister to resign. In Israel’s political tradition, such a “recommendation” is more or less binding. (One forced Ariel Sharon to step down as defense minister after the 1982 war in Lebanon.)

The recent resignation of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who bore the brunt of Winograd’s criticisms, has allowed his successor Gaby Ashkenazi to usher in a back-to-basics training regimen, so that the military is not caught flat-footed during the next crisis. And this is good news: when it comes to deterring Israel’s belligerent neighbors, the IDF’s readiness is the key factor. The bad news is that Olmert’s decision to postpone the inevitable and stay in office also delays similar, much-needed renewal and recovery in the political sphere.


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