Military acts often pose disagreement about who gets the "credit." If they succeed, the differences concern who demanded to attack right away and who asked to stall and reconsider; if they fail, it is over who gave the order and who evaded responsibility.
Such differences stood at the center of political rivalries and government crises that shaped Israel's history. David Ben-Gurion versus Moshe Sharett and Pinhas Lavon over the reprisals, the arms purchase from France and what became known as the Lavon Affair; Moshe Dayan versus Levi Eshkol over the Six-Day War; Yitzhak Rabin versus Shimon Peres over Operation Entebbe; Ariel Sharon versus Menachem Begin in the first Lebanon war.
The quarrel between Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, which the public became aware of with the release of excerpts of the former premier's memoirs, continues in this tradition. Olmert wants public recognition for his responsibility for "courageous security efforts" and portrays the defense minister as cowardly and hesitant for having tried to foil them.
As far as Olmert is concerned, recognition of his daring would be belated compensation for the harsh criticism he endured for recklessly rushing into the Second Lebanon War. The allegations Olmert has hurled in public at the defense minister are intended to take revenge on Barak, who brought about Olmert's resignation as prime minister following the "cash envelopes affair." The confrontations between them continued throughout the previous government and even made headlines during Operation Cast Lead.
It is difficult for the public to assess which of the two is right in the dispute, as the details are censored. But the public has a right to know whether the "courageous decision" Olmert is so proud of was influenced by a political squabble between the prime minister and the defense minister, and to decide whom it believes.
Is Olmert right? Is the defense establishment headed by a hesitant man, who is afraid of taking responsibility and shirks its consequences? Or is Barak right, and the former prime minister was driven by panic and needlessly rushed into battle?
Olmert resigned from his post, but the troubling questions his memoirs raise are of crucial public importance, both to understanding the past and regarding similar events in the future. It's time to lift the censorship and let the public judge.
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