Cut Your Losses and Go

The defense minister is faced today with a Herculean mission. Peretz is unable to carry it out, and even his closest supporters would not claim otherwise.

"I am the defense minister of the State of Israel," declared Amir Peretz on television earlier this week - as if he were trying to convince himself and the public that he really does hold that post. Had it not been for the media spotlights on his spat with the prime minister, which followed a telephone conversation Peretz had with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, it would have been possible to think that he had been forgotten in his office. But this week, he was heard everywhere: Peretz has initiatives, Peretz is under attack, Peretz is insulted, Peretz fires back.

It is hard to imagine a more pathetic and flawed appointment than that of Peretz to the Defense Ministry. He got the job because of political arrogance, having no clue about defense matters. His promises to be "a civilian and social defense minister" proved to be meaningless nonsense. His influence on decision making, in both the war in Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip, was and remains minimal. The only operation that he pushed for - the deployment of three divisions to the Litani River toward the end of the war in the North - was a failure and resulted in many deaths. His authority in defense matters is a sad joke: No one takes him seriously - not the government, not the army, not the public.

The only area in which Peretz has excelled as defense minister is in media spins and press headlines. His ridiculous claim that Ehud Olmert prevented him from putting an end to the shooting in the Gaza Strip, was added to his previous duds: evacuation of outposts, opening the crossings into the Gaza Strip, altering the route of the separation fence, the demand that the IDF show "creativity versus the Qassam" rockets. Nothing was actually implemented, and the impression that has been left is that "the minister's orders," assuming they are actually given, are thrown in the trash the minute the meeting is over. But Peretz does not care: It is easier to create a new headline. In any case, the media will not investigate what was and was not carried out, so long as it receives a new spin the next morning.

"I am not the minister of assassinations! I am the head of the peace camp!" was how Peretz exploded at Olmert, who blocked his Abbas channel. The headlines told a story of his daring initiative to put an end to the shooting, but the reality was the opposite: That same night Peretz sent in special forces and the air force for more assassination operations in the Gaza Strip, which were answered the next day by a lethal barrage of Qassams against Sderot. Had he really wanted to influence, he should have tried to delay such operations, so as to give Abbas a chance. But at the time the forces went out on the operation, he was busy with a leak of the "phone conversation affair" to Yedioth Ahronoth.

When Olmert stuck Peretz in the Defense Ministry, he promised there would be nothing to worry about, because all the decisions were being made by the prime minister. Olmert did not understand that it's the defense minister's job to serve as a bullet-proof vest for the prime minister, in this case, to absorb public anger over the Qassam and Katyusha rockets, and to ensure that there is no friction in the army. That is what Yitzhak Rabin and Shaul Mofaz did, for Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon, respectively. Olmert made good on his promise, and indeed did veto all of Peretz's initiatives and decisions, but he was left with no protection in public. Olmert's punishment for his arrogance is a painful drop in the polls.

The time has come to put an end to this farce. Israel's defense minister is faced today with a Herculean mission: to rehabilitate the IDF in the wake of the war in Lebanon, to prepare it for a confrontation with Iran, and to restore public confidence in the army. Peretz is unable to do this, and even his closest supporters would not claim otherwise. Instead of humiliating himself and the country in pathetic struggles of survival - he would do best to cut his losses and take his leave. Who knows: If he puts forward a convincing resignation, he may succeed in dragging the prime minister with him.