Ehud Barak / Guessing Game Comes to an End

Yesterday afternoon, Israel seemed like a normal country: the news programs discussed the weather, the declining dollar, the imminent jail time of Omri Sharon. But that illusion was rapidly shattered as the national psychosis - the psychosis of inquiry committees - returned to take over the agenda.

At least one good thing will result today from the Winograd Committee's completion of its work: We will no longer have to play the guessing game. We will no longer be forced to imagine how the heroes of the political drama might behave.

And there's another good thing, too. We will no longer have to hear Defense Minister Ehud Barak say, "We will do what is good for the country," with exactly the same secretive, all-knowing smile that hides widespread ignorance and a lack of a clear strategy.

Although Barak did not play a role in the Second Lebanon War, he is the one who could end up paying the heaviest political price for the war. Three sentences he uttered in the heat of the primary race for the Labor Party chairmanship have turned Barak, against his will, into the primary player in the Winograd drama.

What cruel irony it is that Barak, who managed to get the Israel Defense Forces out of Lebanon in 2000, is now up to his neck in the 2008-model Lebanon imbroglio because he promised to end his collaboration with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert once the Winograd report is published.

Whether it will be tomorrow or early next week, Barak is going to have to make a decision. Only a really softball report or a very short-lived protest will get him out of the mess. How will he keep his promise on the one hand but remain in government on the other? How can he keep early elections at bay? How can he avoid debasing himself by taking up hopeless causes like calling for Olmert to be replaced?

There is almost no argument between Barak and Olmert on the final goal: They are both ready for elections in 2009. Barak believes that another year in the Defense Ministry will help him politically, while it is clear to Olmert that his government won't last more than another year anyway.

The problem is that Olmert isn't interested in advancing elections under pressure from Barak, because he would then become a lame duck, while Barak must maintain his credibility. This conflict of interests will eventually become the center of the political action. This is a process that will take a while to unfold, but few politicians believe that Olmert will not have held on to his seat by the end of it.

A vote of no-confidence has no chance because of the need to present an alternative candidate, with the support of 61 MKs. According to Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the only thing that will cause the government to collapse is the security situation.

All that's left now is to wait for the press conference announcing the findings of the Winograd Report this evening at Jerusalem's International Convention Center. No one knows for sure what will be said there, but what is completely clear is that afterward, the air will be filled with an intolerable outpouring from politicians, generals, public figures and plenty of people full of hot air. He who will not be speaking today is the one who will be determining what happens in the near future.