Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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6 Ellul 5766 - August 30, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Will Olmert be Better at Political Wars than Military Wars?

by M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

The prime minister definitely has more experience in politics than in military affairs. Since the cessation of hostilities with Hizbullah in the north, Olmert has been involved in a personally more intense battle to keep his job.

There is a lot of public dissatisfaction with various aspects of the way the recent fighting was handled by the leadership at all levels, both civil and military. Most of the criticism has not been openly political, and has come from various points on the political spectrum, though there are certainly political overtones.

As soon as the cease-fire took effect, returning soldiers went straight to the protest lines. They complained about a lack of leadership as reflected in mistakes, and also changing and sometimes conflicting orders, as well as serious shortages of basic equipment and supplies.

The soldiers called for a state commission of inquiry, which is a body whose constitution and powers are defined by law. It would be able to call witnesses, to compel testimony, and to draw conclusions including dismissing officials, if it found that is necessary. A state commission of inquiry is an independent body that does not report to the government. It can set its own agenda. A state commission is set up by the chief justice of the High Court, who chooses its members and defines the questions it is to address. The commission itself decides what to publish. As a result, such a commission is a potential threat to a sitting government.

On Monday evening, Olmert announced that he was establishing two internal government inquiry commissions. Those are just panels of experts that report to the government itself. They have no special powers. Olmert argued that these commissions will work faster and draw lessons quicker and are better suited to actually rectifying problems. He claimed that a full-fledged state commission would paralyze top political and military leaders just when they should be preparing for new threats — especially from Iran. However their powers and perspective are limited to what the government tells them to do, and they have no legal power. The prime minister chooses the members of such a commission, defines their mandate and decides which parts — if any — of their final report to publish. The potential as a threat to the government from such a body is much reduced, compared to a state commission.

Olmert's move did not satisfy the critics, even those within the government. Amir Peretz's leadership of the Labor Party is very weak, and there are many within Labor who would not be sorry to see him publicly chastised. He took over Labor as an outsider, and does not have strong ties to the Labor Party establishment. Also, he is just about the only one threatened by a commission of inquiry. Thus, many Labor politicians are very free with their criticism.

Even Labor government ministers criticized Olmert's move. Ministers Ophir Pines-Paz and Eitan Cabel announced that they would vote against it, arguing that a state commission is necessary. As part of the Cabinet they bear part of the collective responsibility for all the actions of the government, but that does not seem to worry them. MKs who do not have a Cabinet seat, such as MKs Ami Ayalon and Danny Yatom, were also very vocal in calling for a strong state commission. Naturally the opposition also demanded a state commission of inquiry.

Olmert proposed to set up one panel under a former Mossad chief, Nachum Admoni, that would look into the government's decision-making. The IDF would examine itself. Olmert said in his speech that the State Comptroller would focus on shortcomings during the war on the home front. The Comptroller said on Tuesday that he sets his own agenda, is already looking into the war, and does not take orders from the prime minister.

Polls show a dramatic drop in public support for Olmert and his government: According to the Dahaf Institute, 63 percent of Israelis would like to see Olmert resign.

After the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the first Lebanon War in 1982, state commissions of inquiry were set up. Prime Minister Golda Meir retired from politics in the wake of the Agranat Commission after the Yom Kippur War. The findings of the Kahan Commission in 1983 led to Ariel Sharon's ouster as defense minister.

Demands for a full-fledged state commission of inquiry are unlikely to go away. Protesters have been camped outside the Prime Minister's Office for more than a week. There are two camps: One group of IDF reservists has linked with right- wing settler groups to demand the immediate resignations of Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. The other continues to work with the Movement for Quality Government for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry.

The protests truly reflect widespread anger and disappointment over the execution of the war. The Dahaf poll also claimed that if elections were held now, Olmert's Kadima party would fall from 29 Knesset seats to 17, Labor would fall from 19 to 11, the Likud would rise from 12 to 20 and Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu would rise from 11 to 17. In other words, the center-left nucleus of Olmert's current coalition would drop from 48 seats to 28, and right- wing parties such as Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu would rise from 23 seats to 37.

Both Labor and Kadima appear to have problems that are deep. Kadima is a new creation that was put together by Ariel Sharon and that Olmert inherited. His personal signature policy with the further withdrawal from large tracts of Yehuda and Shomron, and even he has finally admitted that this is now a dead issue. It is not clear what, if anything, could hold Kadima together, aside from the common interest in a political job.

Olmert has come in for personal criticism for real estate deals that he made in the past, as well as his appointments while serving in an earlier ministerial post.

To survive, Olmert will have to come up with a new agenda. So far he is trying to rally support for a national effort to rebuild northern Israel and the western Negev, the areas that suffered the most from rocket attacks.

In Olmert's favor are some recent events in Lebanon. Olmert has also insisted that the results of the war are better for Israel than generally thought. The Lebanese army seems serious about taking charge of the South. Also Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that he won't interfere with the deployment of the Lebanese or U.N. forces. Also, Nasrallah said openly earlier this week: "Had I thought that Israel would react as forcefully as it did, I would not have ordered the kidnapping of the two soldiers."

Nasrallah claimed victory against Israel, but those are not the words of one who thinks he has achieved a military success. Also, as Olmert pointed out, the Israeli prime minister travels freely in northern Israel that was recently under Hizbullah attack, while Nasrallah was afraid to emerge from his secret bunker even for a brief meeting with the visiting UN Secretary General.


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