Olmert is handing out cash
Instead of dealing with the substance, the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff are opting for cosmetic solutions to the failures of the war.
The degree to which the country's leadership has internalized the lessons of the war can be appreciated by the way in which it has responded to its embarrassing results: Amir Peretz put together an insider's committee of inquiry, Dan Halutz sought advice from a well-known public relations expert, the IDF spokeswoman held talks with public relations firms and Ehud Olmert embarked on photo-op visits to northern towns, making extravagant promises. Instead of dealing with the substance, the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff are opting for cosmetic solutions.
These acrobatics are of no use to the very real rupture that exists. The Lipkin-Shahak committee evaporated before it began, the PR efforts of IDF spokeswoman Miri Regev were nipped in the bud, the fact that the chief of staff consulted PR guru Reuven Adler was denied, and the financial promises Olmert is making still need to be shown to be true. In any case, these solutions are not the right medicine, and certainly not the only one, for the crisis that this war provoked and the failings it has exposed.
Last week, Olmert spoke on four different occasions of reconstructing the North: during the weekly cabinet meeting; in the meeting of the special ministerial group he established to deal with the reconstruction; and in the course of the two trips he took to the area. On none of these occasions did Olmert dedicate any time to analyzing the causes of the calamity that befell the residents of the North.
Olmert spent his time describing the glorious future this part of Israel was expected to have. Instead of being matter-of-fact and credible, of delineating the extent of the destruction and offering a realistic plan of action to repair the damage, Olmert created the impression that the disaster that hit the northern Israel was the starting point for what would later upgrade the area to paradise-status. For a moment, it was possible to conclude from his statements that the state was only waiting for the destruction in the area of Haifa and the border with Lebanon to occur before transforming the region into a gem. The heights of exaggeration reached such levels that, during his visit to Nahariya last Thursday, Olmert declared that the government's aim was "not to return the Galilee and the North to routine but to create a tremendous platform for development." He even mentioned a figure for the sum that would be invested toward this purpose: NIS 10 billion. Hassan Nasrallah pays $15,000 to each family whose home was destroyed in southern Lebanon, and Olmert pays to please the residents of the North.
Money will not provide answers to all and PR is not a panacea. Clearly, the damage needs to be fixed, but before Olmert dumps billions in the north, he must answer painful questions. Have conditions ensuring a normal life for the residents of the North and their guests really been created? Will the flow of huge sums to the development of the North not prove to be, at a future date, a flawed investment, so long as no political and security stability has been achieved along the borders with Lebanon and Syria?
Slogans, propaganda maneuvers and sweeping cash disbursements are insufficient for dealing with the rot in the IDF, in the state and municipal services, and in the leadership's decision-making process. The correct approach is to deal with the problems seriously, identify them properly and hire excellent people to deal with them - not to fudge it, disperse catchy phrases and juggle around PR campaigns. In other words, instead of surrounding themselves with "strategic advisers," media types and spin doctors, Olmert, Peretz and Halutz must rely on professionals from entirely different disciplines: management, defense and diplomacy. What was missing in the decision-making process during the war was the input of statesmen experienced in foreign and security affairs; on the other hand, there were more than enough media manipulators.
The rupture that emerged in the war is a reflection of the overall ills of society in its entirety: There is no effort to concentrate on the substance, only on the wrapping. There has been a capitulation to the fad of placing, at the center of the decision-making process, professionals specializing mostly on the impressions caused by their decisions, and less on the essential implications of these decisions. This approach has opened the gates to the fly-by-night, superficial and negligent behavior that was exposed during the war. Just as the serious problem that has now emerged at the Presidential Residence will not be solved by public scenes in which Gila and Moshe Katsav hold hands, the fundamental elements that led to the fiasco in Lebanon cannot be wiped out through showboating and media-related gimmicks.