Israel Resource Review 22nd August, 2006


Ehud Olmert: Fighting for his political life
Jason Guberman-Pfeffer

It's unprecedented during wartime to undermine your nation's unity. Nevertheless, that's exactly what Israeli PM Ehud Olmert did when he declared that the war would create "new momentum" for his divisive Realignment Plan. Now even that presumptive fantasy has fallen by the wayside as his attention turns to the most important task for an allegedly corrupt career politician – saving his job.

It seems that Olmert, in a desperate attempt to stave off the mounting calls for his resignation and forthcoming investigations into his conduct of the war and personal financial dealings, is trying to cut a deal with the Opposition. In return for "postponing" Realignment and changing the government's composition, such as removing the Labor party (perhaps with inexperienced Defense Minister Amir Peretz serving as the fall guy for the entire war), maybe, just maybe this 'dead man-walking' can survive.

Of course, this is all dependent upon the Opposition who, lead by former PM Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, probably won't take the bait. Figuring that, "we're tired" Olmert and "let's negotiate" Peretz would do a fine job of hanging themselves, the Opposition has been largely quiet. Sure, there have been some soft jabs at "government mistakes" but Netanyahu and most Opposition Knesset members have refrained from unloading their full criticism, content to merely watch as those nooses tighten. According to a new poll published on August 16 in the Ma'ariv newspaper, they probably won't be waiting much longer with "support for the prime minister, who may face a formal inquiry into a real estate deal he made in 2004, dropp[ing]from 78% on July 19 to a new low of 40%."

Whether by choice, trial or election, Olmert's days are numbered along with what he represents, a mentality Bradley Burston described in Haaretz as "Yuppiestan." Israeli's, he wrote, have "…tolerated corruption for too long. For too long, we've allowed incompetence to go unaddressed, even rewarded. We've learned to countenance mediocrity, to let failure ride."

Failure in war of course, is another matter, for a country where victory is synonymous with survival. Even with the calls for accountability from Left to Right, however, Olmert isn't one to give-up easily (except against Hezbollah). According to Sara Honig (Jerusalem Post) this should be a given for someone of Olmert's abilities. Olmert, she wrote, "may be grossly inept in running the affairs of state, but he's second to none in churning out a heavily biased portrayal of reality (in his own favor obviously), or advantageously manipulating our perception, prettying-up and covering-up. The day of the spin doctor is upon us."

But can spin really work this time? Can the Israel public be made to believe that they won rather than lost the war, even as Olmert calls for "prepare[ation] for what's to come" i.e. the coming wars? That Northern Israel was protected rather than neglected, when approximately 4,000 rockets fell there? That the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) were well prepared instead of ill-equipped and supplied, when many reservists have complained about the lack of food, water and tellingly, orders? It doesn't seem likely, prompting Opposition MK Prof. Dr. Aryeh Eldad to recently comment: "a thousand public relations experts cannot turn failure into victory." In other words, Humpty Dumpty can't be put back together again – he's already in the frying pan.

On a side note, no one has questioned whether this war was a case of 'wag the dog' as some have speculated about Ariel Sharon's intentions behind the Disengagement Plan. The fact that it was a war of choice rather than necessity leaves questions as to Olmert's motivation. Why didn't he maintain the status quo of hoping that Hezbollah wouldn't launch a war on his watch - it worked for his two predecessors? Whatever his intention, greater attention is being focused on many facets of Olmert's life from the contradictory – his children refused compulsory IDF service and two sons live abroad - to the possibly criminal and worst of all, his innate indecisiveness.

With the end of Olmert's Premiership, possibly Yuppiestan and the Israeli media's realization that greater vigilance is needed to prevent mediocrity from ever rising again, maybe the public can focus on the painful reality that peace is a long process. It is not something that can be unilaterally declared, secured behind ever higher walls or by misguided agreements paid for with the blood of "victims of peace."

Which if any leader and party have the vision and determination to put forward a comprehensive new strategy and shift the failed paradigms? It's unclear who will emerge when the dust settles but for right now it will suffice that Olmert and his government go.

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Middle East News Line

Leading U.S. military analysts have determined that Hizbullah achieved major gains in its 33-day war with Israel.

The analysts, including some who serve as consultants to the Defense Department, have concluded that Israel's military failed to significantly weaken Hizbullah.

They said the military was surprised by Hizbullah's acquisition of and skills in anti-tank missiles and surface-to-surface rockets.

The most far-reaching assessment was issued by retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Hoar. Hoar sent a letter to President George Bush signed by 21 retired military commanders and national security consultants that called for U.S. negotiations with Hizbullah's sponsor, Iran. "The problem that existed for the last month between Hizbullah and Israel and its effect on Lebanon makes the need to negotiate [with Iran] even more critical," Hoar said in a briefing. "Hizbullah is clearly coming out of this a winner.

Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Israel's failure to defeat Hizbullah would not harm strategic relations between Washington and Jerusalem. Cordesman told a briefing on August 17 that Israel's military and government failed to properly manage the war and would have to learn from the counter-insurgency experiences of Algeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

"I don't think that there has been any significant change in U.S. and Israeli relationships," Cordesman said. "There will be a question coming out of this as to what the Bush administration was told by Israel as to its initial goals, the timing. But the question for everybody will then be it certainly probably was not deception of the United States. If there were mistakes made, it was self-deception of Israel communicated to the United States."

"The Israeli government is not the kind of government that provides clear and effective management of war," Cordesman said. "The same message is one that is being communicated about the senior command of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]."

Cordesman said Israel's military had been unprepared and relied too much on airpower against Hizbullah. He said Israeli troops were insufficiently trained and improperly deployed in southern Lebanon. "From the Hizbullah's viewpoint, they have got to get more modern weapons in, longer-range missiles and rockets, rockets and missiles with guidance systems and more lethal warheads," Cordesman said. "They have to get as many longer-range fire systems as they can. They have to prepare to fight in-depth and along the roadways and roads that Israel occupied and to deal with vertical envelopment from helicopters, all of which they can do and prepare for if there is not a very aggressive effort to solve this." "From Israel's viewpoint, you have to use force even more against civilian targets," Cordesman added. "You have to attack deep. You have to step up the intensity of combat and you have to be less careful and less restrained."

Michael Collins Dunn, editor of the Washington-based Middle East Journal, said Israel sustained a major intelligence failure. Dunn said Israel failed to assess Hizbullah's missile and rocket capability, particularly that of the C-802 cruise missile.

"After years spent fighting the second intifada, in which anti-tank weapons were unknown and rockets were limited to the homemade Kassams, the IDF was unprepared for a well-equipped and trained Hizbullah," Dunn said.

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Commentary: Golan Next?
Arlene Kushner

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter (Kadima) caused quite a furor yesterday when he advocated withdrawing from the Golan Heights in the interests of making peace with Syria.

One is tempted to ask where his head it. But rather than discuss this at length myself today, I would like to share Barry Rubin's thoughts on the matter and recommend that his entire piece -- "Talk of talk is damaging" -- be read.

Says Rubin: "There are . . . basic reasons why the belief that negotiations with the Fabulously Extremist Four (Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran) are going to solve anything is the opium of the opinion-makers.

"1. They have far-reaching goals. They want a Middle East without Israel; a world without America; and a chador in every closet. These are not agrarian reformers: they are consistent totalitarians on a level with fascism and Communism. "2. They think they are winning. Even defeats are interpreted as victories, with some help from large portions of the Western media and intelligentsia. Especially now, they believe that the tide of history is running in their direction. Why should they be willing to make deals with those thought soon to be their victims?

"3. They believe their enemies are weak and cowardly. Can you blame them? The calls for concessions, the demands for detente, the nattering for negotiations are all taken by them as signs of weakness. Compromise is not a concept, at least right now, in their vocabulary.

"4. All the assumptions made by the negotiate-now crowd (part of which is an appeasement-now crowd) are wrong.

"THIS IS the point upon which I want to focus. The interests of Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran and Syria are in line with extremism and aggression, not moderation. These people are not deluded or merely aggrieved - they have a pretty good strategy going. Why shouldn't they sing, 'The future belongs to me!'

"If the appeasers win out, it will."

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