Commentary Magazine


Contentions

The Teflon Prime Minister

The planets continue to align, improbably, in Ehud Olmert’s favor. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak apparently has strong Labor support in his decision to stay in Olmert’s coalition. Barak announced his decision Sunday, but yesterday’s Knesset session offers a crystalline portrait of a country’s disgust with its leader.

Olmert addressed the Knesset and attempted to take nominal responsibility for the softball findings of the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War. The Jerusalem Post reports that parents of soldiers killed in that war interrupted the Prime Minister only to blast him and renounce their citizenship.

In the wake of Israel’s military debacle in Lebanon, the partisan machinations of Ehud Barak and the egomania of Ehud Olmert have conspired to keep the country in the precise defensive condition it can’t afford: stasis. Barak had said he’d pull his support for Olmert and force elections once the Winograd Committee report was delivered. However, facing his party’s dismal public approval ratings and the current hawkish climate, he’s gone against principle and chosen to nurture the incompetent Olmert instead of risking a Likud victory.

Meanwhile, in his speech yesterday, Olmert demonstrated once again that he doesn’t even comprehend what his faults might be. He didn’t so much take responsibility as spread it around. Getting both the tone and content exactly wrong, he reminded all attending that his taking the country to war reflected “the unequivocal opinion of the defense establishment.” That’s not necessarily false, but it’s also not what’s provoking outrage. Benjamin Netanyahu recognizes the war’s “vast national and international support” on his blog today. Yet, Netanyahu adds:

However, even with such advantages, and as pointed out by the Winograd Committee, it is the first war initiated by Israel that it did not win. The IDF fought with bravery and courage. The failure lies with the amateurish government . . . The committee had concluded: We place the responsibility on the shoulders of the three figures at the helm. But while two of those figures – (former) Defense Minister Amir Peretz and (former) Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz – have since resigned from their positions, the prime minister refuses to follow suit.

A nation whose survival depends on the fearless accountability of its leadership is being forced into weakness by the survival instincts of cowardly leaders. Ehud Barak continues to talk a big game about his plans to bring down Olmert at just the right time, but barring the effects of one of Olmert’s other scandals, that toppling has been permanently postponed.


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