From November to November

Today, a year since the two heralds of hope for social change and peace with the Palestinians came to power, Israel is going downhill in everything except the stock market.

November is an erratic month. One of the main features of November is obsessing about tomorrow's weather. Is summer still here, or is winter on the way? Come November, we also commemorate the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and the UN Partition Plan, and mourn the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Last November, Israeli politics underwent a double turnabout: Amir Peretz won a landslide victory in the Labor primaries. Ten days later, Ariel Sharon quit the Likud and founded Kadima. The opinion polls predicted a stunning electoral victory for the new party.

Both leaders were poised to infuse new life in the political arena. Peretz committed himself to a social agenda and had Shelly Yachimovich hugging him in front of the cameras. Sharon was pushing his mantra of giving up the dream of a Greater Israel and reaching an accord that would allow two peoples to live side by side.

What high hopes, and what a letdown, from November 2005 to November 2006. Peretz sacrificed his social vision to accept the defense portfolio, about which he knows nothing, and Sharon fell into a coma, as if in answer to the settlers' prayers.

Ehud Olmert's leap from the bottom of the Likud barrel was pure chance. When he turned up his nose at Sharon's offer of the commerce and industry portfolio, Reuven Rivlin came up with the idea of granting him the title "deputy prime minister." Sharon agreed, but Olmert made sure to get it all down in writing.

So ultimately, Olmert is where he is now because he's a lucky duck, as the grandkids would say.

Today, a year since the two heralds of hope for social change and peace with the Palestinians came to power, Israel is going downhill in everything except the stock market. The International Monetary Fund is full of praise. How is this possible? Read TheMarker.

Corruption and sexual harassment in high places is the trend today. So many public figures, from the president and government ministers to mayors and local council heads, are under police investigation. No one's nose is clean anymore - not in politics, not in the army, not in local government.

Peretz, the social revolutionary, just couldn't resist when they offered him the defense portfolio. Not only is he clueless in military affairs, but his battle cries sound more like the shrieks of the old lady next door.

Olmert gives a whole new meaning to the concept of leadership. "My job is to run the country, not invent agendas," he says. Indeed, only in a wheeling-and-dealing country like ours could a plan for presidential government be pulled out of a hat overnight.

We had a sneak preview of the kind of authority this "president" would have when Avigdor Lieberman joined the government and promptly proposed dividing Israel up like Cyprus and dealing with the Palestinians the way the Russians deal with the Chechens.

From November to November, something else happened: The Israeli Defense Forces lost its mythical status as an intelligent, super-resourceful army. The cabinet ministers claim that when they asked the chief of staff how Hezbollah might respond, he replied: "We're considering everything."

Sharon or Yitzhak Shamir would never have let it go at that. They would have banged on the table and demanded that the chief of staff "answer the question." The cabinet approved the longest war this country has fought since the War of Independence with intolerable ease.

This November, Israel is in a real bind. Israel's perceived power of deterrence has gone down in the eyes of the Arabs and the world. The IDF has strayed from David Ben-Gurion's dictum that war should be fought on enemy territory and battles should be brought to a swift conclusion to prevent harm to the Home Front.

Oh, and November is also election time in America. Now we have a friend in the White House who is basically a lame duck. He will have to leave Iraq demonstrating some kind of achievement, as opposed to Vietnam, where boarding a helicopter and getting the hell out was enough.

Iran has marked Israel as its primary nuclear target, but the real threat is to moderate Arab countries. Instead of all the bluff and bluster about blowing up Iran's nuclear reactors, we should hurry up and reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

We need to make sure that in November 2008, we will have both power of deterrence and the brains to continue being a strategic asset in the eyes of America's next president.