Get Set for the Earthquake

A survey that appeared in Haaretz shows a clear political shift: Likud has risen from 12 seats to 29, while Kadima has shriveled into a party smaller than Shinui.

Every time a major earthquake strikes somewhere in the world, our geologists like to remind us that Israel sits on the Syrian-African Rift, which means that one of these days we may be in for a big one. But geologists, like weather forecasters and astrologists, are careful not to be specific about dates or how intense the quake will be, if and when it happens.

This same state of uncertainty applies to Israel's political establishment, which also sits on a fault line - the botched war in Lebanon and an investigative committee probing the failure and who is to blame. Judging by the depth of the probe, which is going back years, and the fact that the witnesses - both those who have been questioned and those who are about to be - have hired lawyers, it looks like we can expect a political earthquake measuring high on the Winograd scale.

Ehud Barak, as the man who pulled the IDF out of Lebanon unilaterally, has already testified before the committee, along with two defense ministers and three chiefs of staff. Ehud Olmert is scheduled for cross-examination at the end of February. Assuming that Olmert is last in line, the committee will be submitting an interim report sometime in early March. In this report, the committee will issue warnings, if necessary, of course, to those who may be harmed by the panel's final conclusions. Whatever happens, Ehud Olmert has hired a lawyer, Attorney Eli Zohar, just to be on the safe side.

Despite predictions to the contrary, some legal experts have the feeling that the committee will come out with a stinging report, not only because the conclusions warrant it, but also to prove that not being a state commission of inquiry doesn't mean it has no teeth.

With the political instability in Israel today, the erosion of public trust in all levels of government, and the decline in national morale, the findings of the Winograd panel could trigger a real tsunami. An index of national resilience presented at the Herzliya Conference by Haifa University's Center for National Security Studies produced some worrying statistics: Israelis today are less optimistic and more fearful. Faith in the strength of the army and its ability to win wars has diminished. Other surveys published in the media show that trust in the leadership has taken a nose-dive, with Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz topping the list.

A survey that appeared in Haaretz shows a clear political shift: Likud has risen from 12 seats to 29, while Kadima has shriveled into a party smaller than Shinui. From a party expected to win 45 seats in the days of Ariel Sharon, it wouldn't even take another fiasco for Kadima to go the way of the Democratic Movement for Change and Shinui, i.e., disappear from the political map.

The final report of the Winograd Committee, scheduled for publication around the time of the Labor party primaries, may influence their outcome. If Peretz had been less full of himself, if he had understood that he didn't have even the minimal professional qualifications to be defense minister and had turned down the job from the start, he wouldn't be in the pickle he is today. But now he's trapped. Whatever he does, it won't look good. If he gets up and resigns now, it will be an admission that he is to blame for the failure of Lebanon. If he doesn't, the Winograd Committee could put the blame on him, and he will be forced to resign.

Peretz is the victim of his own hubris. No peace initiative he pulls out of his sleeve now is going to save him. If the committee does not absolve Olmert of all responsibility, it's hard to say what will become of Israel's No. 1 spin champion. Will the pile of graft charges against him now being investigated by the law enforcement authorities be the straw that breaks his back?

Theoretically (and let's hope it is theoretical), the Winograd Committee could focus on the military bungles and lay all the blame on Halutz's shoulders, saying nothing about the responsibility of the political echelon. It could issue its conclusions without going deeply into the logic of the government, into questions that weren't asked, into answers that were received and never challenged. If that should happen, the Israeli public, seething as it is today with anger and disappointment, may finally take to the streets and turn the conclusions of the Winograd Committee into an earthquake on the Agranat scale.