J.G., what Ehud Barak really wanted to achieve–not only by supporting the French-proposed cease fire but also by letting the public know about his recommendation–is not clear.
The story is simple:
The idea for a 48-hour suspension was first raised by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in a phone call with Barak on Monday. Barak initially rejected the offer, but in a second conversation on Tuesday told Kouchner that he would reconsider and raise it in talks with Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
News of Barak’s decision took the IDF – which continued to mass forces outside Gaza on Tuesday ahead of a planned ground operation – completely by surprise, and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi released a statement saying the IDF was not behind the move.
The complicating factor is Barak:
Barak, at a meeting with his aides and half a dozen guests, said things that were meant for publication, but not for attribution. The result was miserable, in terms of both content and form. He confused the public just when the aims of the operation seemed crystal clear and enjoyed broad support.
He did not explain the connection between the stable, long-term cease-fire whose achievement – and nothing else – would justify ending the operation, and a limited cease-fire called solely to enable negotiations on the larger cease-fire. The opposition he aroused from his colleagues in the government and senior defense officials managed to put the weaknesses of the group that will decide the operation’s future at the top of the agenda.
Eventually, Israel has rejected the proposed cease fire (giving the Washington Post an opportunity to get it right). The credit Barak might get for success in the Gaza operation is already in some danger. But this should worry him and his party, not Israel’s citizens. Thus, the real problem arising from this miserable incident is that it served to pick holes in the relative unity behind the operation and its goals. As usual, the leftist Meretz party and its satellites were ready and willing to put an end to operation they endorsed just a couple of days ago.
Here’s Meretz last Thursday:
“The time has to act without compromise and without narrow political considerations, to protect the citizens of the Gaza periphery and Sderot,” the statement said. “There is no choice but to hit Hamas in a precise way and to act for a renewed ceasefire,” the party said.
Here’s Meretz four days later:
In a speech to the Knesset on Monday, Oron warned against the IDF “getting stuck in the Gaza Strip” and said he still did not understand what the goals of the war were. Meretz MKs later voted against a motion endorsing the war.
You can’t blame Barak for this (expected) shift in Meretz’s position. But sowing confusion in time of war–something Barak knows as well as anyone is not a good idea–gives the Meretz/Peace Now camp a tool with which they can work to change public opinion. Strengthening Meretz is not what Barak needs to do right now.