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Israel's Cost - Effective Crossroads

Ruling Kadima Party Resigned To Fact That Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Has Become A Political Liability

Kadima Source: 'One Possibility Is That #1 In Kadima Primaries Gets PM's Post - the Runner-up Automatically Takes Foreign Ministry

Israel Cease-fire With Hamas Controlled Gaza May Be Best Option As It Ponders Its Options On Iran

Tzipi Livni & Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

At week's end, Israel was in the throes of considering the ousting of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and whether or not to go for a possible cease-fire with Hamas controlled Gaza. IsraCast assesses the leading topics on Israel's domestic and regional agenda. Will 'Prime Minister Tzipi Livni' soon be leading the current and why is Defense Minister Ehud Barak supporting what is likely to be a phony cease-fire that Hamas will eventually violate?

Israel is now at the cost- effectiveness crossroads on two major issues - one is the leadership of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the other is total war or a cease-fire with Hamas controlled Gaza.

Olmert: At long last, Kadima, Israel's ruling party is facing up to the reality that Olmert must go. Some two weeks ago, Labor's Ehud Barak issued an ultimatum that Kadima must start the machinery for replacing the PM or else the party would bolt the coalition and vote for an early election . This in light of the police inquiry and the the testimony from Morris Talansky that he gave Olmert several hundred thousand dollars partly in cash and in envelopes. At first, Kadima appeared stunned by the specter of party pandemonium and possibly even a breakup.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Barak had not set a deadline arousing hopes in Kadima that the Defense Minister was bluffing as he had after the Winograd report into the Second Lebanon War. But now Barak has set a time-line; Labor will vote for the first reading of a Likud early election bill on June 25th. The clock will then be ticking for Kadima to set an appropriate date for its leadership primaries to replace Olmert. The implication is that if Kadima tries to buy time, Labor will vote for the second and third readings and topple the government. The Kadima leadership realizes that their party and their personal careers are now at stake. Even Olmert has accepted the need for the leadership primaries. His only hope is that one way or another the Talansky testimony will fall apart. Talansky, an American citizen, will be cross-examined by Olmert's lawyers next month and this appears to be the Prime Minister's last hope.

At present, Kadima appears resigned to the fact that Olmert is definitely a political liability and the worst possible option is for him to carry on as party leader. Better to place a bitter fight for new party leader who will carry on as prime minister with Labor and Shas rather than go to a disastrous early election that the Likud's Bibi Netanyahu would probably win. So, faced with these circumstances it's very likely that Israel may soon have Prime Minister Tzipi Livni at the helm. Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit follow her in the polls. One Kadima source recommends this solution to resolve the confrontation between Livni and Mofaz: #1 in the primaries will obviously be the choice for prime minister while #2 gets foreign minister. Past experience does not rule out the possibility that Shaul Mofaz and some other Kadima members could bolt the party and return to their former Likud fold. But politically, it is simply not cost-effective for Kadima to continue supporting a leader besieged by police inquiries and who will lead them into political ignominy.

Even Yoel Marcus of Haaretz the dean of political pundits, has dropped his support of Olmert in an article entitled 'Olmert, go home'. It appears this time it's not a question of if, but when the Prime Minister will be forced to step aside.

Gaza: Defense Minister Ehud Barak is not only pressing Kadima to drop Olmert, he is also determining Israel's decision or lack of decision on the relentless rocketing of the Western Negev from Gaza. The Israeli civilians under daily fire, are demanding the government decide one way or the other - either total war or a cease-fire with the Hamas regime. Egypt has invested a major diplomatic effort in trying to broker a 'tahadiya' cease- fire between Gaza and Israel. It calls not only for a halt to the seven years of violence, the Egyptians would commit to blocking the continual arms smuggling from Sinai into the Gaza Strip, something they have not seriously done so far. Barak contends that it's worth the risk. If the agreement falls through, Israel would have the right to launch a full scale ground operation into Gaza. However, critics including Opposition Leader Netanyahu contend that every day that Israel procrastinates only increases the danger. The Palestinians have never kept a cease - fire in the past, violating it under one guise or another. Moreover, Hamas leader Haled Mashal has declared publicly that the Koran sanctions such 'tahadiyas' with the enemy in order to grow stronger and attack in the future.

If Barak and the defense establishment were to recommend the total war option there is little doubt the government would adopt it. There can be be doubting the gravity of the provocation. So why is the Defense Minister apparently willing to give the Egyptian proposal a chance? This time, the aging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is thought to be deeply concerned about his own radical Islamic movement at home - the Muslim Brotherhood. The rise of Hamas in Gaza can spark Egypt's radicals who are bent on toppling the Mubarak regime. There is a reasonable chance that now the Egyptians will stop lending lip service and really block the Hamas smuggling from their territory into Gaza. Aside from the local implications there is also a regional dimension to the current crisis over Gaza.

The countdown is continuing for Iran's developing a nuclear weapon. Israeli intelligence believes the point of no return will pass late next year or early in 2010. At some time in the not too distant future, Israel will have to decide whether to go it alone against Iran or not. The recent declaration by Cabinet Minister Shaul Mofaz that Israel should attack Iran if it does not halt its nuclear weapons program is an indication that this time is drawing nigh. Under these circumstances, it is only reasonable that defense officials would prefer to have reasonably good relations with Egypt and the Arab world rather than launching what could be a bloody war into Gaza. This also applies to the international community in general. In light of this situation, and barring major Israeli casualties, it may be more cost-effective strategically for Israel to go for the cease- fire in Gaza as it ponders its options on Iran.

David Essing

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