Two and a half weeks ago, during the cabinet meeting that approved the deal that will bring Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev back to Israel today, Ehud Olmert promised that "in the very near future ... orderly, agreed-on and tough" procedures would be drawn up to guide future Israeli governments in dealing with situations of Israelis being kidnapped by enemies of the state.
The prime minister also shared his indecision with the ministers - hasn't the time come for Israel to stop giving in to the extortionate dictates of those who kidnap its soldiers and civilians? But he ultimately declared that under the present circumstances, the government had missed its opportunity and had no choice but to meet Hezbollah's demands. In the future, declared Olmert, everything will be different: The government will have a bible at its disposal that will instruct it on how to bargain and what positions to adopt in negotiations over the return of captives, alive or dead. He said something similar at yesterday's cabinet meeting.
But more than it points to an organizational flaw in the workings of the government, Olmert's desire for a kind of written guide to situations involving an attack, hostage-taking and negotiations with a terrorist organization attests to a desperate search for leadership ability. During both cabinet sessions, Olmert sounded as though he were uncomfortable with the deal, as though he would have liked to cancel it, if only he could base the decision on some regulation. He gave the impression that had he had a guidebook for situations involving the kidnapping of Israelis and been able to point to a relevant paragraph (for example, how to behave in case the captive is not among the living), he would have asked the cabinet to reject the deal. In the absence of this type of external support, Olmert did not find the strength within himself to take the lead in rejecting Hassan Nasrallah's conditions.
But do not shake your head at Olmert. He is no exception in his helplessness when confronting the tragic circumstances that forced the government to accept the agreement that will return the two kidnapped soldiers via the Rosh Hanikra crossing today. Two years ago, Olmert and the government he headed brought about the process that will end today on the Israeli-Lebanese border. On July 12, 2006, the government actually did have written scenarios, specific plans of action, clear summaries of exercises and even previous decisions, all of which provided it with the necessary database for making decisions in light of Hezbollah's provocation. But when it comes to running the affairs of state, an organizational and procedural infrastructure of this kind is not sufficient. There is also a need for personal traits such as experience, wisdom, levelheadedness and foresight.
In the absence of these traits, the procedural platform becomes an alibi rather than a tool, as proven by the Second Lebanon War. The war's failure stemmed mainly from the individual functioning of government leaders and senior army commanders, and less from organizational glitches and defective procedures. In that sense, the Winograd Committee afforded too much importance to the flaws it found in formalistic aspects of the army's and the government's conduct. This emphasis in the committee's reports was presumably influenced by Prof. Yehezkel Dror, whose field of expertise and professional school of thought focus on decision-making processes and improving the organizational work methods of institutions and agencies. Without playing down the importance of orderly processes, making successful decisions depends first and foremost on the personality of the leader: on his worldview, moral stance, determination and wisdom.
In July and August 2006, Ehud Olmert and every one of his cabinet ministers were exposed to the burning core that sizzles beneath the activity of Israeli governments: They had to make life-and-death decisions. During the two years that have passed since then, the public has discovered how badly its leaders were scorched by this cruel trial. Today, the circle is being closed, and the last link is putting the ministers to a test that echoes the dilemma they presumably faced on the morning of July 12, 2006. This morning will once again prove that neither procedures nor formulas dictate their decisions, but rather their personal traits and the inner code that guides each one of them.
The same will be true in the future, even if the government has at its disposal a system of marvelously defined rules that provide a price list for captives in every situation imaginable. Given the circumstances in which such deals are discussed, circumstances that will always involve painful human tragedies, we must aspire not to a detailed and technical list of instructions, but rather to an overall policy that will remove, or at least reduce, the rationale for carrying out kidnappings.
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