Not the Leader We Wanted

While Olmert is spinning hopes for the future and launching peace balloons, the head of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, is warning the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel could be facing a war in the North this summer.

After appointing Commander David Cohen as the new chief of police, Security Minister Avi Dichter announced: "This isn't the appointment I wanted." The public could also be just as blunt and say this isn't the security minister we wanted. It's hard to understand how a person who was so highly thought of as Shin Bet chief could be a minister so prone to putting his foot in it.

And while we're at it, this could be applied further, to the whole government. A suspected sex offender and rapist wasn't what we had in mind for president of Israel. A finance minister suspected of embezzlement, a justice minister tried for sexual harassment and a defense minister who knows nothing about defense are not what we had in mind for national leaders.

And most of all, Ehud Olmert is not exactly what we had in mind for prime minister. Between failing in his position, being suspected of corruption and confessing to the Knesset that he was the one who ordered the botched war in Lebanon, Olmert is now starring as a peacemaker.

The Saudi king will be surprised to hear my views on peace, Olmert says. Within five years, he promises, everything's going to be fine. A subtle hint that not only will we be at peace and have a country that's fun to live in (also within the span of five years), but he hopes to be reelected and sit tight until 2014.

While Olmert is spinning hopes for the future and launching peace balloons, the head of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, is warning the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel could be facing a war in the North this summer, launched by Hezbollah and Syria.

Olmert can boast to the Knesset from today to tomorrow that going to war was his decision, but from every possible angle it was a bungled war, both in terms of achieving its objective (freeing the soldiers kidnapped in the North) and in terms of wrecking Israel's power of deterrence in the eyes of the Arabs and our international allies.

We will find out soon enough how Olmert plans to extricate himself from this mess and how many terrorists he will have to cough up to bring Gilad Shalit home. And nothing has been said yet about the two other hostages, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, for whose sake we fought a 33-day war. About their release, we haven't heard a peep.

The public has made it clear in the surveys that Olmert is not the leader we wanted. Olmert was right in that famous speech of his about not being popular. But he has not drawn the personal conclusions he should be reaching in the wake of his failures.

Olmert will not resign willingly at any stage of the game, says a veteran political observer - even under public pressure, and even if the Winograd Committee is tough on him. Olmert learned from Ariel Sharon that when police probes and suspicions loom overhead, it's better to be sitting in the Prime Minister's Office. In their book, Raviv Drucker and Ofer Shelah hint that Sharon cooked up the disengagement from Gush Katif to get the police inquiry off his back. Whether or not this is true, Sharon at least came up with a challenging national agenda of the kind only a strong leader like him could implement.

Olmert promised to follow in Sharon's footsteps, but he has not managed to put together a compelling national agenda. He doesn't have enough popular support to evacuate the territories. The famous dictum "when you need a leader, even a thief can be cut down from the gallows" doesn't apply in his case.

Olmert is not a quitter. A president may go, a justice minister may go, a finance minister may go, a defense minister may be replaced, but Olmert is staying put. Behind closed doors, Ehud Barak has also said that Olmert is not going to quit of his own free will.

Olmert's situation today is like the boxer in the arena, wobbling and half-alive, barely able to stand on his feet, with the crowd counting the seconds before he falls. Starting Independence Day, April 24, the country will enter a tense waiting period, as the fate of the Olmert administration lies in balance.

On May 4, it will be a year since Olmert came to power with his promises of convergence. His credit period, as a war minister we didn't want, is up. The Labor primaries on May 28 may create a new political constellation. If Amir Peretz is beaten and forced out of the Defense Ministry, the domino principle may go into effect. The government in its current configuration won't be long for this world. If nobody relishes the idea of elections, this is the perfect time to reshuffle the political deck and put together a functioning coalition. Will Peretz disappear from the stage? Will Barak win the primaries, and as next defense minister gallop off in the direction of the Prime Minister's Office, where he so longs to be? Will there be a coalition without Labor? Will the partnership consist of Likud led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and the religious parties?

Whatever happens, Olmert will grab the horns of the altar and hang on for dear life until it seeps in that he is not the leader we wanted.