When Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his aides discussed the demand for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut, he told them that such a panel lacked any practical powers other than making recommendations to the government. However, Begin said, from an ethical standpoint, the government cannot avoid reaching the necessary conclusions from the commission's rulings. So he said, and so he did - forcing, among others, Ariel Sharon to accept the Kahan Commission's judgment and vacate the Defense Ministry. Over the past two days, Ehud Olmert has proven that ethical considerations are not part of his value system.
There is no surprise in Olmert's refusal to resign, on the grounds that the Winograd Committee did not specifically make such a recommendation. Throughout his public life, he has walked the fine line between what is acceptable and what is not, in a way that honest people would seek to avoid. The compass that guided him was not what is proper but what is technically permissible. Therefore, he is involved in a series of scandals to which politicians like Haim Oron and Dan Meridor would have never been party, and he is not embarrassed by this involvement, because he has never been convicted of a crime. This is also the case with the Winograd report: As long as it has not officially called on him to step down, Olmert will stay put, even though the committee has ruled that he is not capable of doing his job.
The prime minister claims that it is for the good of the state - not God forbid, for his personal benefit - that he must continue in office. This argument's credibility resembles that of his statements to the public in July-August 2006: "The home front is strong," "we are winning," "in every battle, our soldiers defeated Hezbollah," "we have brought about a change in the strategic situation in the Middle East." When there was criticism of the decision to send three divisions to try to reach the Litani River during the final two days of the war, Olmert's associates leaked that this move had been forced on him by the Israel Defense Forces and the defense minister. When there were demands to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the war, the prime minister urged us not "to wallow in internal investigations and mutual recriminations." Of course, this was all said for the sake of the public welfare.
Olmert's response to the Winograd report is not only unethical, it is also not very smart, because it will make his life miserable in the short term and is likely to drive him out of town in the long run. In the near future, he may be required to order the IDF to embark on a major military operation - for instance, in the Gaza Strip - that will claim lives. He is not taking into account the possibility that some soldiers might refuse to obey orders originating with the prime minister whom the Winograd Committee concluded was responsible, personally and ministerially, for the failures in last summer's war. He is ignoring the scars left on him by the Lebanon war and the Winograd Committee's conclusions, and how they will affect future decisions of his on which lives will depend. Is he not liable to fail by being overly cautious? Or, on the other hand, out of an excessive desire to win at all costs to make up for the embarrassment of the last war?
During the war, military decisions were made whose operational justifications were debatable, and there is concern that they were driven by ulterior motives such as the wish to create an image of "victory" on the battlefield. One example was the ground offensive during the final two days of the war, and this was apparently also the case in several commando raids behind enemy lines.
One matter worth discussing separately is the way the Winograd Committee members view themselves as charged with warning of a fateful decline if Israel does not return to the days of national mobilization. Insofar as it pointed out the failures of the war, the committee did not offer much that was novel; its principal insights and diagnoses had already appeared in the pages of the press during the events themselves, as early as the first days of combat. But the committee's findings carry extra weight because of its public status and the thoroughness of its investigation. When Olmert (and Amir Peretz) refuse to reach the necessary conclusions and resign from the country's leadership, they relegate the committee's views to the status of a newspaper article. From the point of view of the prime minister and defense minister, it makes no difference whether the committee concluded that they conducted themselves perfectly last summer or were utter failures: They are staying in their seats.
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