One leader with an agenda
So what if Hassan Nasrallah had the stuffing beaten out of him? In the minds of his men and his people, he won. So what if Israel reshuffled Hezbollah's cards and pulled out of southern Lebanon with a political achievement in the form of a multinational peacekeeping force? In our minds, this was a war that Ehud Olmert lost.
The difference between them is that Nasrallah represents half the Lebanese people - the Shi'ite half - in addition to being Iran's frontline ally. So for him, it's no sweat to sum up the war as a divine victory.
Two-thirds of Lebanon lies in ruins. Major infrastructure was knocked out of commission. Bases, depots, headquarters, banks and financial institutions were destroyed. Most of Hezbollah's command centers were reduced to rubble. A million people were driven from their homes, and a quarter of a million scrambled to leave the country.
With statistics like these, Nasrallah needs a healthy dose of chutzpah to get up in front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands and pass himself off as a hero and a savior. And he's still making threats. He says he still has 20,000 rockets in his bag, and that no one in the world can disarm him.
Olmert's power doesn't derive from Allah, but from Mina Tsemach, the pollster. Her recent surveys show that Olmert, with only seven percent of the public behind him, is Israel's least popular prime minister of all time. So it's no coincidence that, like Nasrallah, who had to explain to his people how he got them into such a mess, Olmert took advantage of the upcoming holiday to grant seven or eight interviews to the media, and take a swat at his critics.
Journalists in our neck of the woods are not the idol worshipping type. They asked tough questions, and not only about the war, the unnecessary casualties and the bitterness of the reservists. They asked why we didn't know that Hezbollah was capable of firing 200 rockets a day at the home front. They asked about Olmert's real estate transactions. They asked about the houses he owns, his political appointments and other affairs that have the whiff of corruption about them.
Olmert is a good talker, but these meanies rubbed him the wrong way. He was particularly aggravated by the blunt question posed by Haim Yavin: "Mr. Prime Minister, are you corrupt?" Nahum Barnea, one of the eight interviewers, described Olmert as amazingly well-spoken - too well-spoken, he said. "The better he speaks, the less effective he is."
It's been hard for Olmert to swallow the public anger and the criticism directed against himself and the lameness of the army that has forced him to appoint an official commission of inquiry of sorts that may also seal his own fate. He's already preparing files and tapes, taking pot shots at Shaul Mofaz and badmouthing Moshe Ya'alon for portraying the war as media spin. In short, we are seeing all the signs of a man whose career could suffer badly.
To his interviewers, Olmert said it wasn't his job to babysit the army. A strange remark, considering that he was the one who decided to go to war. Either he didn't ask the right questions, or he asked and someone led him astray. Anyway, if he was so sure the army messed up, the first thing he should have done was fire Dan Halutz, the man who set the tone and mapped out the strategy.
In one of his first political speeches, Olmert promised a different Middle East. His intention was to shape new borders by means of the convergence plan. This failure to win a decisive military victory could end up producing a new Middle East, but not the kind he intended: The Shi'as are liable to grab the reins in Lebanon, bringing Iran to our very doorstep.
With dangers like these in the air, it was strange to hear Olmert's reply when someone asked: "Do you still believe that four years from now Israel will be a country that's fun to live in?"
"We're already a country that's fun to live in," he said.
His answer to the question posed by Haaretz - "What is your agenda?" - was even more moonstruck. "A prime minister doesn't need an agenda. His job is to run the country," he said.
No need for agendas? So what about the convergence agenda that helped him win the elections? What right do Olmert and Kadima have to exist without continuing Ariel Sharon's legacy?
In the current marathon of speeches and interviews, Nasrallah stands out as the only leader in these parts with an agenda. And that is not good news for the coming year.