"We are pleased to invite you," sing the invitations on the cellular phones, "to a surprise party on the birthdays of Ehud Barak and Fuad Ben-Eliezer, on February 11, at 20.00, at Khan Hadekel in Or Yehuda." Barak and Ben-Eliezer indeed share a birthday, February 12, along with Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, who are less likely to make an appearance in Or Yehuda. When the birthday boys are led inside, stunned with surprise, one can guess that in light of their advanced ages - Ben-Eliezer is 71, Barak is 66 - they will ask only for one modest gift: to remain in the government.
Barak agreed to serve as defense minister in Ariel Sharon's government after losing the elections to Sharon in 2001, and he was only prevented from doing so by Haim Ramon, who later also thwarted the possibility of Amram Mitzna's joining Sharon's next government - only to join Sharon himself in establishing the Kadima party. On the eve of the last elections, Barak was willing to consider not only a place in Uzi Dayan's list for Knesset, but even a stealthy, solitary incursion into Kadima, where the first 14 slots on the list were reserved for Likud and Labor defectors.
One Likud leader claims he learned then that Barak was willing to settle for the respectable 20th place on the list, the same place that Yitzhak Rabin occupied on the Alignment list in the 1974 and 1977 elections. Barak recently denied this specific claim, but even if the number is apocryphal, the core of the report is true. Barak turned at the time to the man who had been his foreign minister in 2000, Shlomo Ben-Ami, and urged him to come to Kadima with him; Ben-Ami, who refused, was meant to provide respectability and ideological cover for Barak's own move.
Once the Winograd war probe submits its final report, it will be Barak who is the main obstacle to the downfall of Ehud Olmert. Even if he ends up adding his hesitant voice to those now calling for Olmert's resignation, he will come across as a reluctant follower, not as a leader.
This is not only a moral error, but a political misstep. The reshuffle that is sure to follow the Wingorad report will be an opportunity for change not only on a personal level, but system-wide. It would be a shame if the only outcome of the Winograd uproar were for Ehud Olmert to stop being prime minister and for the others in his party to be bumped up one place on the list (not to mention the possibility that the shuffle might be limited to a "castling" move between Olmert and Tzipi Livni, by which she becomes prime minister and he takes the foreign affairs portfolio).
The creation of a new government, led by a Kadima representative, must involve a redistribution of cabinet positions. Kadima must not be left with the justice and public security portfolios. The ministers holding both, Daniel Friedmann and Avi Dichter, have caused serious damage to the legal system, the very system to which Ehud Barak once again paid lip service at Herzliya this week. Barak has in his party good candidates for these positions: Ophir Pines-Paz and Ami Ayalon, respectively.
During Dichter's reign as minister of public security, the deep-rooted malfunctions within Israel's police grew worse. He made a bad gamble in appointing Dudi Cohen as the police commissioner. Cohen, a modest officer, does not rise to the level required of the organization's top-ranking official, who should be a figure of public stature.
Prominent major generals below him, especially his deputy, Shahar Ayalon, and Southern District Commander Uri Bar-Lev threaten (against their best interest ) to upstage him, and he in turn strives to diminish them. His clumsy, mean-hearted treatment of the highly accomplished officer Efraim Erlich, whom Cohen is trying to bury at the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron, instead of placing him at the head of an elite police commando unit, raises a hard question: If Erlich is the enemy of the criminals, and Cohen is Erlich's enemy, what does that say about Israel's number-one cop?
Not everything in the Israel Police is so dismal. Bar-Lev established an elite unit named Magen to keep the border of the Negev secure. Major generals Yohanan Danino and Yoav Segalovich have improved the efficiency of the investigations and intelligence force and established task forces made up of investigators, prosecutors and tax authority officials. The positive initiatives, however, are drowning in the murky bog of a problematic approach to command.
We need a new minister, one who will use his authority to force Cohen to make new appointments and adopt a new spirit. On the day after Winograd, this matter will be in Barak's hands.
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