Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boasted during a visit to Tiberias last week that while he was touring the northern communities with his head held high, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was holed up in a bunker. The prime minister did not realize that hiding in a bunker is not only a physical state but also a psychological state - and certainly a political one.
The answer to the question of who is under siege two weeks after the war, Olmert or Nasrallah, is not an obvious one. Nasrallah has gone underground, but his leadership within his organization remains firm and his position in the Arab world has become stronger. Olmert's chair on the other hand, is shaky. To tell by his mood, the prime minister's advantage is hardly unequivocal. Is the political distress and depression in which he is mired what he hoped for when he ordered the Israel Defense Forces to open its campaign on July 12?
One does not need Freud's touch to know Olmert would do anything to turn back the calendar to July 11. Today he is engrossed in a desperate struggle for survival, his agenda has changed to the extreme, his mood has become somber, the logic of his government's existence has come crashing down, and his popularity has dived to a unprecedented nadir.
Olmert had truly planned on making Israel a country that would be fun to live in, to disengage it from the corrupting rule over most of the Palestinian areas, to change the national priorities, to correct the destructive deviation in course it took after the Six-Day War. Instead, he finds himself forced to deal with entirely different problems: the IDF's capability of ensuring the country's existence, the weakness of the home front, the cabinet's ability to depend on experts. He had hoped to take advantage of his term in office to contribute to the welfare of the country, and he finds out he has to deal with the most basic components of its existence instead.
Olmert's pompous statement in Tiberias reflects a grave tendency: It implies Olmert will not let Nasrallah out of the bunker. While Olmert can, as he put it, "move freely in Kiryat Shmona and Safed, Nasrallah knows that nothing is left except the bunker" - meaning from now on, the Hezbollah leader has been condemned to live underground and has nothing to look for above it. Olmert has in fact announced to the world that he considers Nasrallah a marked man; that if he steps out of his hiding place, the prime minister will order his assassination.
This attitude, to put it midly, requires scrutiny. Is the rule regarding Nasrallah during active fighting the same after it is over? Has Olmert taken into consideration the implications for the Israeli home front an hour after he instructs the IDF to take out Hezbollah's leader? And what would happen to the war's main diplomatic achievement - the deployment of the international force and the Lebanese army along the northern border? Olmert's statements imply he has given Nasrallah the same status as the heads of the Palestinian terror organizations, and that he sees the sovereign territory of Lebanon in the same light as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as far as Israeli freedom to operate goes. Unless the prime minister plans to link Nasrallah's freedom of movement to a prisoner swap - and if so, what is the point of self-aggrandizement?
Arrogance, even if it is hollow, is not a useful prescription for directing affairs of state. What is worrisome about Olmert's latest statements is not only their haughtiness but also their motive. The prime minister unwittingly revealed his mood at present: He is haunted by the failure of the war in Lebanon and is trapped by an indomitable ambition to slough off the shame of this image. The state now needs a level-headed leader who is not subject to the traumas and failures of the war, one who can take a sober look at the diplomatic and security situation. The leaders who carry in their consciousness the fresh burns of the campaign and the disgrace it caused them personally are liable, even unconsciously, to subjugate the country's needs to selfish considerations of image.
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