The man who has been interrogated and suspected of wrongdoing countless times in his career without ever losing his smug self-confidence or failing to mug for the camera looked like he was hearing the whack of hammers as the guillotine prepared by the Winograd Committee went up behind him.
With all the false speculation and leaks sweeping the country, we suddenly see that there isn't such a big difference between an state commission of inquiry and a government-appointed committee. Both can decide to send, or not send, cautionary letters before publicly targeting specific individuals. According to a well-known legal expert, such letters have no significant impact on the outcome unless there is a whiff of criminal misconduct. The people under investigation are either OK or not OK. In any case, public opinion decides in the long run whether a politician is worthy of continuing in office.
Why the Winograd Committee felt the need to announce ahead of time that it would issue an interim report with personal conclusions on the performance of the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff, separate from rest of the report, is not clear. Maybe the committee members had it up to here with all the guessing games in the media, and decided to get there first and head off the political hullabaloo.
Olmert was not overjoyed by the committee's announcement. On the other hand, he believes that even if the report is not especially complimentary about the way he ran the war, it won't be the type to force him to resign.
Olmert's people are not sure why the interim report, or the "partial report" as it is being called, specifically covers the five-day period from July 12 to July 17, and not what went on before or after. Clearly it has to do with the fact that on July 17, Olmert delivered what was known as his "Churchillian" speech to the Knesset, explaining why the country was going to war.
This speech included bombastic statements such as: "Israel will not agree to live in the shadow of missiles or rockets against its residents .... There are moments in the life of a nation when it is compelled to look directly into the face of reality and say: No more! And I say to everyone: No more!" There's no need to dig very deep to see that the intention was not a limited operation but a full-fledged war. Did the prime minister and his cabinet understand where they were headed?
After this speech there were 27 more days of fighting, during which most of the bungles occurred and most of our soldiers were killed. When is the committee going to talk about that part? And why hasn't it said anything about reaching personal conclusions on the performance of other people? Are five days of war really enough to determine the culpability of Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz?
Publishing the report in sections will only throw the political establishment into a gray zone of political uncertainty and create a whirlpool of speculation on who is really to blame for what happened.
Olmert's associates don't understand the significance of the committee's decision not to send out cautionary letters. Does it mean there are no findings that will compel Olmert and the others to hang up their hats? Or will the personal conclusions suffice to make the public throw all three to the lions? In any case, it's the tone that makes the music, and what Olmert is hearing right now is not music to his ears.
Meanwhile, the political establishment is already divvying up the spoils. It's not a very heartwarming thing to see: Olmert, despite his solid coalition, is in bad shape, with 97 percent of the public having lost faith in him.
But Olmert is a tough cookie. A lot of what people say about him rolls off his back. He is banking on the fact that most Knesset members don't want early elections. On the one hand, he is striking a "business as usual" pose, and has even come out, all of a sudden, in support of the Saudi initiative. On the other hand, he realizes this is not his finest hour.
In the wake of Shin Bet reports that Qassam rockets may soon hit Kiryat Gat and even Be'er Sheva, Olmert declared that "we are not going to sit still forever." The way things look for him now, I would wait with the threats of war, at least until after the Passover holidays.
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