Bay of Pigs to Come

Sharon and Olmert succumbed to Rice without a fight and got a Palestinian Cuba. The sequel, from the Bay of Pigs to the missile crisis, will not be long in coming.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's pretensions to the position of prime minister are simply and prima facie anchored in the facts: Labor Party chairman MK Amir Peretz has yet to experience membership in a government and running matters of state, while his other rival, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, has certainly had these experiences - and failed.

Last week Olmert lost the relative advantage encapsulated in this argument. His failure in the affair of the rise to power of Hamas in Palestine wipes out his superiority relative to Peretz, and is more ominous than everything Netanyahu did, including the events of "Blazing Iron" - the Wall tunnel - in September 1996.

There is an opening for hope here. Netanyahu's Black September occurred two months after the government was formed. Olmert's Green January has occurred two months before the elections. Back then with Netanyahu, Israel was stuck like a nail without a head; with Olmert now, it is not yet too late to take this into account.

As usual with Olmert, he is passing the buck for his entanglement to subordinate ranks. This time it is intelligence, which did not predict the Hamas victory. The official assessors, in their various organizations, did indeed have their hypotheses proved wrong. Not only in advance of the elections but even on the day of the vote itself, the trends were not known to anyone. The morning after, a bit before the media, the coordinator of activities in the territories, Major General Yosef Mishlav, dumbfounded his superiors with an initial report on the results.

The Finance Ministry, which is headed by Olmert, had marked out the coordinator as destined for a deep cut, in a way that will damage his ability to sense moods in the territories. After the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the Treasury swooped down on the Office of the Coordinator, thinned out its job slots, transformed military positions into civilian positions (among them that of Brigadier General Ma'ada Hatzbani, Mishlav's deputy), and ordered the cancellation of the Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) in the south. This, even though it emerged that the CLA, under the command of Colonel Nir Peres, is the Israeli factor that has the ability to continue to act in the coordination of security, welfare and economic issues vis-a-vis the Gazans, who are only ostensibly independent.

The assessor is not the one who makes the decisions, and this is a good thing, because if it were not the case then the prime minister would be the head of Military Intelligence or the head of the Shin Bet security service, and their dire or blase assessments (whether to call up troops for a war alert, whether it is too dangerous to withdraw from Lebanon or Gaza) would take on the validity of decisions. The entire responsibility is incumbent on the government level - the Kadima government, and especially Olmert, his predecessor Prime Minister Ariel ("in whose light we shall walk") Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

If Mofaz is not satisfied with Military Intelligence, he also has an assessor who is entirely his own, Major General (Res.) Amos Gilad, formerly the coordinator of activities in the territories and the head of the research division at Military Intelligence. After all of the professional assessments, it is up to the decision makers to formulate an assessment of their own, which is the crucial one, and to act accordingly. The internal investigation in intelligence is therefore necessary but not sufficient: There is a need for a commission of inquiry that will determine the shared responsibility of Sharon, Olmert and Mofaz in the Hamas takeover.

They did this in two stages: submission to the American pressure to allow Hamas to participate in the elections, and the refusal to provide Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who scented the defeat, an excuse to cancel the elections, such as a prohibition on voting in Jerusalem. In the choice between two bad alternatives - defying the United States or getting Hamas into power - Olmert and company chose the one that was worse.

The presidential ambitions of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who needs the minorities' votes, are reflected in her embrace of Africa, Asia and the Arab countries; at Rice's command, henceforth the study of their languages and service there are essential for American diplomats seeking promotion. Sharon and Olmert succumbed to Rice without a fight and got a Palestinian Cuba. Fanatical Islam is behind Hamas, which has toppled the corrupt Fatah, just as Fidel Castro, who toppled the corrupt Fulgencio Battista, had help from the Soviets. The sequel, from the Bay of Pigs to the missile crisis, will not be long in coming.