He Who Dares, Loses

It is no wonder that in the face of this critical tsunami stands a leadership petrified with fear.

To paraphrase the old song, "Our life occurs between the sickle and the sword," it can be said that nowadays our political life occurs between Herzliya and Winograd; between conferences and investigative committees, between the sagacious in retrospect who look into the failures of the past and the sagacious in advance who casually click their tongues over the failures of the future.

In between we hear the cries of those who have good intentions and those who have interests, those who are really hurting and those who are self-righteous, the cynics and the wrathful, bereaved parents, reservists, generals, politicians, Jewish settlers in the territories, the naive and the people with hidden agendas. It is no wonder that in the face of this critical tsunami stands a leadership petrified with fear, neutralized from action, fearful and unable to do the things it is under attack for not having done.

It is true that the trap the leadership has fallen into has to do with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's character, but perhaps not exactly in the way his many opponents mean. These people hold his character responsible for much of the war's results, even though some of these people attacked him long before the war and even supported both its initiation and prolongation during that ill-fated weekend that now hangs over him.

In any case, it is a fact that the anti-Olmertian coalition is broad and sweeping, broad and fraught to the point where the question arises whether the coalition has to do with some subterranean current of grudges and disappointment that goes well beyond one or another of Olmert's failures. It is possible he would have been blamed for everything even without the war; it is possible this would have been the lot of any prime minister who succeeded Ariel Sharon - at least any from the gallery relevant today.

It is also possible that the grudges and disappointment stem less from what is in Olmert's character and more from what he lacks. For example, the predatoriness, the absence of restraints, the insensitivity to criticism and the merciless "killer instinct" that characterized some of his predecessors (Sharon and David Ben-Gurion come to mind). These characteristics are what allowed those admired individuals to pound their fists on the table and produce a silencing, unifying or calming effect, with no connection to their achievements or failures (among them some that cost a lot of blood).

No doubt it would be going too far to say that Olmert's depleted status among the public is a function of his more "humane" or "civil" characteristics: His awareness of criticism, his flexibility of thinking, his flashes of courage, the fear of losses, the sensitivity to "what people will say" and "how they will react."

Nonetheless, if even a sharp politician like Olmert finds himself paralyzed within a short time like a deer in the headlights, blamed from all sides and without the ability to do anything - even to move a tin can in an outpost - maybe this says something about him and the political system. The system that is unable to digest leadership by "ordinary citizens" or obey leaders who are not "charismatic" (which is what they call public figures here who elsewhere would be considered bizarre, in the best-case scenario).

Without detracting from the severity of the Second Lebanon War's failures, it must not be forgotten that the war's outbreak was accompanied by wall-to-wall cheers for the daring and freshness of Olmert's response, after years in which his predecessors sat on their hands. Daring, which perhaps hinted at a potential for moving ahead, as well as his daring on other fronts and in other directions (for example, withdrawals). But daring and leadership have no reward and recompense in Israel. On the contrary: just punishment.

For Israeli leaders, luck smiles on the cowardly, not the bold. The inert survive, as do those who are frozen in doctrines, or the procrastinators, or those who do nothing. As Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Sharon learned to their personal cost, here one pays dearly even for very brief flashes of boldness, whatever one's political tendency. You moved? You did something? Say goodbye nicely: The countdown to the end of your leadership has begun.