Joint Gaza Operation Hasn't Softened Olmert-Barak Personal Differences

Behind-the-scenes spinning claims to portray inexperienced, aggressive, even 'trigger-happy' leaders.

The current "Gaza War" is being waged in the shadow of the tense relations between Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Their shared responsibility for the current military operation has hardly softened the personal dispute between them. On the first day of the operation, Olmert took issue with Barak's remarks to the media, and the Labor leader did not enjoy playing the role of Olmert's lackey, along with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, at that afternoon's press conference.

Aside from the interpersonal tension, the two leaders remain divided about how to carry out the operation. Olmert has been portrayed as more aggressive and trigger-happy, Barak as more willing to wait until conditions ripen in Israel's favor. Such was the dynamic during deliberations over striking the Syrian nuclear reactor at the end of last summer as well as over the current operation against Hamas.

Two accounts of the lead-up to the offensive are currently circulating around Jerusalem. According to the first version of events, Olmert understood before other senior officials that Israel would be going to war with Hamas and acted accordingly.

According to this view, on November 14, after a barrage of six Grad missiles on Ashkelon he called a meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv at which he convinced colleagues that an impending confrontation was unavoidable. He instructed the IDF to begin preparing in earnest for the aerial strike that surprised the Strip on Saturday. Barak, by contrast, arrived at that conclusion only on December 17, after Hamas announced its intention not to continue the cease-fire. Olmert was not impressed by the Hamas cease-fire, but nonetheless followed the instructions of Defense Ministry officials and was constantly updated with intelligence on the operation's launch by the Shin Bet security service.

After an understanding was reached with Barak, Olmert moved to build a political front in favor of waging the offensive with a series of cabinet meetings. It was Barak who ultimately broke the silence, giving a television interview Wednesday about the cabinet having given the operation the green light. As such, there was a need to take steps toward deceiving Hamas, and Olmert was enraged by what he saw as Barak's attempts to take credit for the operation.

According to the second version of events, Barak had been planning for a confrontation with Hamas for a long time, long before November. He therefore gave the army time to prepare, to gather intelligence and draft plans of action. According to this view, he was willing to absorb round after round of mudslinging, slander and claims of incompetence in order to prepare for the offensive as necessary.

Put simply, Version A holds that Olmert is not running for office and his considerations were therefore substantive, while Barak was merely looking for political capital. Version B says Olmert is concerned with saving his "legacy," and his claims against Barak were pathetic. History teaches us that government leaders do not need to get along in order to wage a successful war. We can only wait to see whether the current war bears this out.