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SECOND THOUGHTS ON LEBANON WAR

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Signals Winograd Findings Will Not Force Him To Resign

On Anniversary Of Second Lebanon War, Israeli Mood Now Seeks Security Leading To Peace Not Oslo Approach

Former Defense Minister Amir Peretz: 'Second Lebanon War Revealed IDF Was Not Ready For Major Ground War, Now It Is'

PM Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

On the first anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, Israel was soul searching about the 163 Israeli soldiers and civilians who were killed and the several thousand others who were wounded last summer. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert toured part of the northern border declaring he was right to launch the war in the face of the Hezbollah provocations. IsraCast is of the view that Olmert is now on political death row trying to appeal a condemnatory verdict by the final Winograd report that could lead to his resignation.

'Israel won on points' that's how former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz rated the outcome of the Second Lebanon War last summer. In a neighborhood where Israel is fighting for its survival such a dubious victory is not good enough. Many Israelis saw it more like: 'Another victory like that and we're lost!' What are the ramifications one year later?

Dan Halutz | Amir Peretz (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Israel's Leadership: Of the three key decision- makers, only Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is still in his job. Halutz and former defense minister Amir Peretz were forced to resign under the cloud of fierce public pressure. Olmert is now on political death row trying to appeal the same fate and waiting the verdict of the final Winograd report this fall. On a tour of Galilee, the PM has just signaled that he will not go automatically if the Winograd enquiry again censures his handling of the war. The findings are not legally binding and cannot force him to resign - they are recommendations and Olmert alluded to this. He was asked to comment on a Channel 10 TV report that quoted one Winograd panelist as saying: ' We were surprised the Prime Minister did not view our previous interim report as grounds for resigning'. Olmert replied: 'Winograd is investigating what transpired, not what will be'. And he went on to say his decision to go to war against Hezbollah had been vindicated by Galilee being more quiet last year than it had been during the previous forty years. This signals his strategy for coping with another scathing Winograd report - Olmert may argue that things are on the mend, the IDF is retraining under the new Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. It's a long shot, keeping in mind the latest opinion poll gives Olmert only an 18% performance rating.

Paradoxically, if Winograd hauls former IDF Chief of Staff Halutz over the coals, it could be to Olmert's benefit. The PM does have a case that the Hezbollah provocation was a legitimate casus belli on July 12, 2006. Eight IDF soldiers were killed and two abducted in the cross border raid which was accompanied by a massive rocketing of civilian targets in Galilee. When the chips are down, Olmert can contend the IDF let him down by not being prepared for the guerrilla warfare with Hezbollah. Moreover, that he was saddled with fighter-pilot Halutz as Chief of Staff who did not know how to fight a ground war. At the time, the whole country was clamoring for a severe Israeli retaliation including Labor on the Left and Likud's Bibi Netanyahu on the Right. And Olmert can argue that his two rivals Netanyahu and Barak also failed their first time around as PM and they now seek a second chance. As for his political posture, Olmert occupies the Center and that's where an Israeli government has to reside in coping with the globalization of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. The Olmert line could sound something like this - 'The Likud's Netanyahu opposes the two - state solution and would end up on a collision course with the U.S. and the international community in no time flat. Labor's Barak gave way the store last time at Camp David and would probably do so again if he became prime minister. Better to stick with Kadima in the middle'.

The question is whether this will wash with Israeli public opinion. The only reason that Olmert remains in power today is because the polls indicate the Likud would form the next government, if an early election were called. New party leader Ehud Barak needs time to build his credibility in the all important job as defense minister, empowered with rebuilding the IDF's deterrent power that was degraded by the Second Lebanon War. Barak is still keeping mum, giving no interviews and creating the image that he is devoting all his time and energy to the job at hand. The carefully conducted counter-terror campaign in the Gaza Strip is naturally being monitored by Israeli public opinion and Barak's performance rating has climbed to nearly 50% - by contrast Chief of Staff Ashkenazi has soared to 80% indicating that many Israelis still harbor a lot of misgivings about Barak. Although the Labor Party leader is on record that he will bolt the government, if Winograd again castigates Olmert, Barak could face a double bind. Will he force the fall of the government to enter an early election he is not ready for ?Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Olmert's toughest rival in Kadima has also called on Olmert to resign raising the possibility of toppling Olmert in an internal party coup after the Winograd findings. Although Livni enjoys a high performance rating as foreign minister, it's questionable if she has achieved the status of a political heavy-weight required for winning an election after the Second Lebanon War.

Second Lebanon War, July 2006

One year after the war, the mood of the country has focused on security and who can best provide it. Olmert is perceived as lacking the capability of adjusting to a changing strategic crisis and it's highly unlikely that he will ever be able to achieve this credibility. Olmert won the last election on the coat-tails of former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon had created the impression the Palestinian threat was under control, the war in Iraq had demolished the Eastern Front and Syria would never dare attack Israel on its own. The Iranian nuclear threat was in the 'outer circle' and was being confronted by the U.S. and others while the Israel Air Force was quietly being groomed to cope with it. Hezbollah in south Lebanon, might be a black hole known to have stock piled 13,000 rockets in its arsenals but considered more of a nuisance than a dire threat. This atmosphere of complacency also explains how the Labor party elected Amir Peretz, another total novice in dealing with international crises.

The Jewish state has moved full circle from the Oslo agreements with the Palestinian signed in 1993. It started with the idea that peace would eventually bring security - Oslo was predicated on negotiations and not violence in resolving all outstanding disputes.

Although the idea of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza was apparent from the start it apparently was never enough for the Palestinian leadership. Arafat walked away from Barak's offer of 95 % of the territories plus land exchanges and a divided Jerusalem. That resulted in the Al Aqsa intifada. So the 'peace would bring security' theory went down the drain leading to the rise of Ariel Sharon. But even Sharon bowed to the specter of Palestinian demography and shocked his own Likud party by proposing an end to the ' occupation' . And not only talking about it but carrying out the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, something that is probably viewed by most Israelis today as a big mistake. But Sharon was Sharon and if the Gaza evacuation did not pan out, he would know how to clobber the Palestinians. The same applied to Hezbollah in south Lebanon where Hezbollah was allowed to build up its military power without Israeli hindrance. The fact is less than a year before the war, a similar Hezbollah raid was anticipated by IDF intelligence in the village of Ragr where Israeli troops inflicted heavy losses on the attackers.

So at this juncture in time, most Israelis are pondering which way to go. The unilateral withdrawals from both Gaza and south Lebanon have not achieved the desired goals. On the contrary, Hezbollah simply exploited south Lebanon as a launch pad for more deadly attacks against Galilee culminating in last year's war. In Gaza, Hamas has even shocked Fatah by imposing its radical Islamist regime while the land evacuated by Israel is again being exploited for the rocketing of Sderot and the Negev. What are the conclusions one year after the Second Lebanon War and two years after the Gaza withdrawal?

The 'peace will bring security' approach has failed in both arenas which were taken over by two agents of Iran that not only refuses to recognize the Jewish state but calls for ' wiping it off the map ' while developing nuclear weapons to so. So, it's fair to say that Israel has charted a new course more in line with ' security bringing peace ' than the other way around.

A final comment from former defense minister Amir Peretz. The former trade union boss, who will probably go down in Israeli history as the ultimate wrong man, in the wrong place at the wrong time, has said the Second Lebanon War was beneficial in the sense that it revealed that the IDF was not prepared to fight a major ground war and now it is. He's hoping he got that right.

Footnote: The anniversary of the Second Lebanon War has focused attention more than ever on the fate of the two IDF soldiers Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev who were abducted in the Hezbollah attack and also Gilad Shalit who was kidnapped in a Palestinian cross border raid several weeks earlier. There have been signs that the Hamas regime in Gaza is feeling the pinch of the international embargo after the Islamist radicals expelled Fatah from the Gaza Strip. A minor Hamas official has called for the reopening of the Karni border crossing with Israel so that normal trade can be resumed. Should Israel not set a condition that Hamas agree to the release of Gilad Shalit in the same manner it secured the freedom of BBC reporter Allan Johnston?

David Essing

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