An Accident Named Olmert

The real accident is not this week's fatal shelling in Beit Hanun, but that the country has been dragged into a war on two fronts by a prime minister and a defense minister devoid of military understanding.

Israeli government spokesmen have been working overtime to convince the Palestinians and the international community that the shelling in Beit Hanun that killed women and children from two families was an accident. Have they convinced anyone? Maybe yes, maybe no. If you ask me, there have been too many "accidents" and screw-ups over the last few months for the world and the Arabs to believe the artillery fire on a residential building in Beit Hanun was an innocent mistake.

The real accident, from a historical perspective, is that the country was dragged into a war on two fronts by a prime minister and a defense minister devoid of military understanding. Moreover, appointing an airman as chief of staff was a grave mistake from the word go. Dan Halutz may know the way to Tehran, but he is clearly clueless when it comes to land operations.

When you've got an arrogant chief of staff who is cocksure that the battle with Hezbollah can be won from the air, it's no wonder that Israel's second incursion into Lebanon ended up the way it did, with one million Israelis sitting in bomb shelters for 33 days.

Ehud Olmert, who knows more about real estate than military strategy, and Amir Peretz, who has made an egg-on-his-face career switch, caved in to pressure from Halutz and gave the green light to befuddled military maneuvers.

On the eve of Olmert's trip to Washington, the political commentators of several newspapers reported that Olmert was "back to his old self."

"He exudes brash self-confidence," they wrote. "He has quick answers and projects a sense that he doesn't give a hoot about all the investigators breathing down his back."

These accounts show that the old scheming Olmert is back. Not only did he dodge a state commission of inquiry, but he deflected public criticism away from himself and onto the generals. When he visited the North, he proclaimed that Hezbollah had been beaten and would not be firing any more missiles into Israeli territory. This is the kind of arrogance that calls to mind Yigal Allon's claim that the Syrian plane capable of crossing Israel's border hadn't been invented yet. The next day, a lone Syrian jet created a sonic boom over Haifa.

Olmert's words look like soap bubbles in light of the intelligence predictions that Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, might surprise us next summer with a reprisal attack all across the northern border. It seems that Hezbollah is not going to wait for the conclusions of the Winograd Commission anymore than Hamas is going to sit quietly in the face of humiliation, starvation and attacks by Israel. It won't be long now before Gaza becomes a mini-Lebanon and a launching pad for suicide bombers.

Israel has an illustrious history of leaders who pulled surprises. Menachem Begin, who was elected on a "not-an-inch" ticket, was the one who gave up all of Sinai. Yitzhak Rabin, who was elected as a military toughie, signed the Oslo Accords. Ariel Sharon, who came to power as the settlers' pet, was the one who sent the dream of a Greater Israel to the deep freeze.

Olmert pledged to continue Sharon's path, but he has not kept his word. He is just not built of the stuff of historical leaders. Bringing in Avigdor Lieberman as a strategic minister of strategy, in itself a world first, proves he's not such a smart cookie after all.

In the absence of a leader capable of talking to the Palestinians, what we need now is an emergency government and a reshuffling of the ministerial deck. Move Peretz over to social affairs, for example, and install Ehud Barak in his place. Utilize Shimon Peres' experience in the cabinet instead of making him president. Bring in Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who knows the ropes, and Dan Meridor, the greatest expert around on the Iranian nuclear threat.

This country is tired of playing war games and being the butt of seething hatred. We need a peace agenda.