January 30 is approaching, nerves are fraying, suspicions are soaring, and every week brings a new installment of the battle of spins and leaks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. A week ago, Barak was quoted as saying that if the Winograd Committee's final report on the Second Lebanon War is severe, he will give Olmert's Kadima Party six weeks to choose a new leader. The implicit threat: If Kadima wants to prevent early elections, which will cost many of its Knesset members their seats, it had better wise up and replace Olmert.
A few days passed, and Olmert responded: Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik declared her support for him to the media, and yesterday, a huge advertisement expressing support for the premier, signed by hundreds of key Kadima activists, appeared in the papers. This was Olmert's way of informing Barak - and incidentally, Kadima prime ministerial hopefuls Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz - that Kadima is behind him, and there is no chance of ousting him.
Olmert did not make do with this salvo. He is fighting for his political life, and he is not being choosy about the means: When, via his associates, he threatened Barak with elections "within two months," he was essentially telling the defense minister: If I have to go, I'm taking you with me. If you play games with me, issue ultimatums to Kadima, call for my ouster or try to reach an agreement with other factions to have elections at the end of the year - I'll call early elections. I'm finished in any case, but I'll make sure to wipe you out, too. Benjamin Netanyahu will be elected, and you won't get a third chance; your glorious comeback will end with a whimper.
Olmert knows that Barak is deathly afraid of elections anytime soon, and he is signaling the Labor Party chair that the prime minister holds all the cards. That is largely true, but not completely. There are other scenarios, which have also been widely discussed in recent weeks. But all these scenarios are meaningless, because no one knows what the Winograd report will actually say and how serious Olmert's situation will be as a result.
The real game will begin at 5 P.M. on January 30. Until then, both Ehuds will continue to send up smoke screens and trial balloons in every direction. But these, too, will end when Judge Winograd and his fellow committee members submit their full report to the prime and defense ministers. Unlike Olmert, who will spend these tense days in Israel battening the hatches against the Winograd storm, Barak plans to enjoy himself: If nothing changes, he will leave tomorrow on a two-day visit to Paris, where he will meet President Nicolas Sarkozy and France's foreign and defense ministers. From there, he will fly to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he will spend a pleasant weekend by the fireside, wrapped in his own thoughts and plans.
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