ANALYSIS / Even Assad Has a Better Opinion of Livni Than Barak

Barak's meeting with opposition leader Netanyahu is unequivocal sign of Livni's slim chances of forming gov't.

At the end of her first weekend as Israel's intended prime minister, it became clear to Tzipi Livni that she would have an easier time forming a coalition with Syrian President Bashar Assad than with her colleagues back in Israel.

Judging by the editorial about her in the Syrian daily Tishrin - which represents the official line - Assad has a better opinion of her than does Ehud Barak. Unlike Barak, Assad thinks Livni does possess the "suitable skills" to pick up that phone at 3 A.M.

Before finding time to meet up with Tzipora, Barak opted to meet opposition leader and Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu - an unmistakable, unequivocal sign pertaining to Livni's chances of actually forming a government.

Neither Barak nor Netanyahu are particularly interested in affording Livni much time in power, in which she would set about gaining some badly-needed legitimacy as the premier.

It is Barak, not Netanyahu, who holds Livni's key to the Prime Minister's Bureau. And judging by what we saw Saturday, he has no intention of handing it to her on a silver platter.

Barak is contending with a cruel dilemma: Either he goes to elections and risks the polls actually being right for once, or serves as the ladder up which Livni will climb to the prime minister's throne.

Whether Barak is actually striving to go to elections or whether he's just using Netanyahu to up the ante for eventually joining a government under Livni, the "Mossad beauty," as the Syrian daily dubbed her, is now realizing that she was naive to believe she could realize her vision of forming a government without encountering too many hitches, along the same basic lines as Ehud Olmert's government and based on the same coalition agreements.

Thinking she could achieve this without having to replace Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and renegotiating the national budget was no more than wishful thinking on her part.

She is not the only player on the court.

The factors that eventually led to the Barak-Netanyahu meeting have been at work for a long time, but the meeting took place only now. Perhaps Livni's moves after her election had something to do with that.

In her first address as Kadima's new chairperson, she already made two mistakes. The first was urging Olmert to resign, for which she was reproached by her senior-most supporter, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On.

The second mistake was urging Labor to "act responsibly and not waste time on political nonsense." Her preaching got straight on Barak's nerves, confirming his suspicions that he is already in the midst of an election campaign in which Livni will try to depict him as Mr. Politics, compared to the role of Ms. Responsibility to be played by Tzipi Livni herself.