ANALYSIS / Crushed and Battered, Olmert Finally Broke

If not for the Lebanon War, Olmert could have been remembered as one of Israel's more effective leaders.

This was a speech - respectful, restrained - that Ehud Olmert should have delivered long ago. Right after the Second Lebanon War, some will say. Right after Talansky's testimony, others will say, or after the Olmertours scandal broke.

If he had stepped down at the war's end in August 2006, he would have saved us and himself much suffering, shame and investigation. By now, he might already have been in the midst of a political comeback.

But the Olmert who spoke on Wednesday from the garden of his compound in Jerusalem was a crushed and battered man, tainted by allegations, lacking public trust or a sympathetic ear.

Thus his destiny was determined.

But make no mistake: He is still with us, at least until November, and if a government is not assembled this fall under another Kadima leader, he may even be with us until next February or March.

The achievements he noted in the speech - economic, military and social - are indeed commendable. If it weren't for the war in Lebanon and the investigations against him, he could have been remembered as one of Israel's better and more effective prime ministers.

Today, such a description sounds strange - an Olmert without the Lebanon war and the investigations hardly seems like Olmert. To his great sadness, it is those things we will remember about him - regrettable new expressions like "money envelopes" and "Rishon Tours" will remain with us long after he is not.

Perhaps only deep into the next prime minister's term will we enjoy relative peace and quiet, a stable economy, low unemployment, support abroad and a steady flow of visiting foreign leaders.

Two weeks ago, when the bodies of captured soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were returned from Lebanon, much was written about the war finally coming to an end.

That is not exactly true. The war's tombstone was only finished on Wednesday, when the last and most senior functionary responsible for its failure finally announced he would take a seat.

Indeed it was the war, in large part, that sealed Olmert's destiny - the subsequent corruption charges only accelerated his demise.

With all the attendant drama, Olmert's announcement on Wednesday was predictable. No one expected him to run in the Kadima primaries again, and he would have resigned anyway if his replacement had set up a new government.

In hindsight, the announcement on Wednesday was the handiwork of Ehud Barak - who as Labor leader forced primaries on Kadima - and no one is more ready than Olmert to remind us of that.

In talks with Labor ministers in recent weeks, Olmert spoke in no uncertain terms of his feelings toward Barak. He would like nothing better than to exact revenge, but he does not know how. He simply has too many potential targets: Barak, Livni, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter.

Theoretically, the prime minister is expected to be indicted while still in office, a scenario from which we have been spared until now. This prospect doubtless passed through his mind last night, but he managed to keep up appearances.

The only moment his voice shook was when describing the suffering of his family, which has been publicly dragged through the muck along with him. Maybe that was what finally broke him.