For three years, Ehud Olmert had no agenda. He hurtled between war and peace, unilateral moves and negotiations, disengagement and convergence and a final status agreement. But at the last moment, the prime minister found his legacy. Despite everything, Olmert is leaving behind a doctrine.
According to the Olmert doctrine, when Israel withdraws to the international border, it will react powerfully and even brutally to provocation.
The first implementation of the Olmert doctrine was a failure. The Second Lebanon War was conducted with criminal negligence and therefore failed to achieve its goals. It deterred Hezbollah, but also empowered it. It left Israel whipped. It was clear, therefore, that another round of violence would shortly take place. In a savage Middle East, a failed war for Israel is an unfinished war. It inevitably leads to the next one.
The second implementation of the Olmert doctrine was also not exemplary. The campaign in Gaza was too long and too brutal. The same achievements could have been realized without a ground operation, or with a short one. Massive destruction and the death of hundreds of Palestinian civilians could have been avoided.
But the war in the Gaza Strip accomplished important strategic goals. It punished Hamas, weakened and deterred it. It made it clear to any hostile neighbor that Israel would not accept attacks on its border and violations of its sovereignty.
Both right and left find it difficult to understand the importance of these achievements. The right still thinks in terms of decisive victory. It does not understand that a war against Hamas and Hezbollah is always limited, without a conclusive victory. Its entire purpose is to instill order in a disorderly environment and stabilize the unstable region for a time.
The left, on the other hand, has still not internalized that sometimes not using force is immoral. It is immoral to abandon the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon. Immoral to blur the Green Line. Immoral to prevent future peace by eroding Israel's status and its deterrence power.
Ironically, Olmert himself did not fully understand the internal logic of the fighting he orchestrated. In the course of the war, he fell in love with it and even tried to expand it. The defense and foreign ministers and chief of staff restrained the prime minister when his whims got the better of him. Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and Gabi Ashkenazi prevented a terrible disaster. They stopped the war in Gaza from spinning out of control as the Second Lebanon War did.
Still, history will show that Olmert left behind one noteworthy achievement. He taught the neighborhood bullies that Israel is no wimp. He led the world to recognize that when Israel withdraws to its border, it has the right to protect it with all its might.
The war in Gaza was not an Israeli-Palestinian war. It was a war between the alliance of Middle East moderates and the axis of extremists. During the war, the United States, Europe, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority functioned as true allies. Therefore the war will have strategic repercussions that extend beyond the Gaza Strip.
In 2006, the failed war against Hezbollah gave the zealots a tailwind. The 2009 war against Hamas, however, gave the sane forces a tailwind. It proves that the moderate alliance in this region can become a winning coalition.
The Olmert doctrine is a tough defense approach. Many have trouble stomaching it. Indeed, Israel's future leadership should make sure the doctrine is implemented without mass civilian killing. But anyone who wants Israel to end the occupation must understand what Tony Blair, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown and Hosni Mubarak did. The Olmert doctrine is not sufficient for peace, but it's necessary for it.
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