It will happen in just a few more weeks: The Winograd Committee will release its final report, which will be at least as severe as its interim one. The government of Ehud Olmert, in its 2006 version, will bear the official and total stamp of failure. If Olmert does not resign of his own free will, Ehud Barak will have to make a decision: To work to bring Olmert down, or to extricate himself from his pledge not to serve in the Olmert government after the report's publication, and thus shatter his credibility.
Like George Bush Senior, with his "read my lips" promise not to raise taxes no matter what, Barak will not recover if he breaks this promise. The security explanation - a deal in Congress for the sake of the 1991 Iraq War, did not help President Bush Sr.; the Iranian danger will not be enough for Barak.
When the interim Winograd report appeared, Barak, then outside the government, declared that Olmert should resign. To win votes in his close-run campaign against Ami Ayalon for the Labor Party chair, Barak took a public oath that he would remain in the government only until the release of the final report.
The exact formulation was couched in ambiguous terms that concealed an escape hatch - "action to set a date for early elections" - but the essence of the promise is clearly connected to the release of the report, not to its content. If the promise is broken, it means that those who voted in the Labor leadership election were enticed to deliver their vote under false pretenses.
Barak will be sorry to give up his current post at the Defense Ministry. He is a typical member of the group of Israel Defense Forces and other security organizations pensioners, ages 55 to 65, who rose to their apex - or almost to it - in the security services, went into politics and business, and sank into obscurity. They then embraced their past, discovering that it is actually more interesting and important inside the system, for themselves and even more so for the nation, which needs their experience and wisdom.
In this group are ex-officers who became ministers, aspired to the leadership of their party and government, awoke (at least temporarily) from their dream and decided to accept a demotion, but a step up in terms of the level of interest: deputy defense ministers Mota Gur, Ephraim Sneh and Matan Vilnai. Before Barak, the most evident member of this group was the defense minister in the Peres-Shamir government - Yitzkak Rabin, at the end of the seven lean years following his fall from the premiership. Ariel Sharon, after the loss of the defense portfolio and before he became prime minister, begged even his adversaries to give him an emergency appointment in the security cabinet.
Barak is no longer young enough to be considered a wunderkind, but is still not old enough to be a father-figure of a leader. He is a security man with a touch of politics. However without credibility, he has no advantage over his political adversaries. The political line of the Labor-Kadima-Likud bloc, which will be at the center of the next government one way or another, is similar, dictated between Washington and Gaza. The administrative skills of all the candidates are a matter of controversy.
In the past, Barak considered his credibility essential to his image. As prime minister, he allowed the Israel Electric Corporation's giant turbine component to be transported on Shabbat, at the cost of a rift with Shas, explaining that Hafez Assad and Yasser Arafat were scrutinizing his steadfastness as a leader and a negotiator. Later he caused a devaluation of his word when he did not make good on his warnings to Hezbollah not to act against Israel after the IDF left Lebanon.
If he does not tell Kadima this time that his price for staying in the government is getting rid of Olmert and appointing another prime minister, with or without setting a polling date, he will be punished in the next elections.
Barak, using cold analysis, may mistakenly assume that the fence-sitters in these elections, who believed in his promise concerning Olmert, will still prefer him as a lesser evil to Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni. But the response will be emotional, like that of the Israeli Arabs who helped Sharon beat Barak in 2001. Many will seek other alternatives, or even stay home, just so as not to support the person who made a fool of them in order to be a minister under Olmert, ahead of the Winograd report and even after it.
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