Olmert's April Fool's Day Joke

Until the Winograd panel has its say, the compliments Olmert is giving himself regarding the summer's war are nothing more than snake oil.

After perusing the interviews with Ehud Olmert in the country's major newspapers this weekend, readers can only rub their eyes and ask themselves whether the prime minister is living in a fantasy, or if they themselves are trapped in a nightmare from which they will awaken any moment to a world that is fun to live in. If the latter is true, then the distress with which Israelis have been living for the past eight months is the private problem of each of them.

But if the former option is the real one, then the country is in big trouble. According to the prime minister, Israel is now in better shape than when he took over a year ago: The government is performing well, the economy is thriving, the coalition is stable, there is no terror, Israel's international status has never been better and he, Olmert, is managing the affairs of state quite well. Were this picture not so disturbing, we could console ourselves by imagining that this is Olmert's idea of an April Fool's Day joke. There it is, a one-to-one ratio between the image of reality as seen by the prime minister and the way it is experienced by the rest of creation.

Olmert claims the Second Lebanon War was a resounding success, and that Israel's strategic situation has improved immeasurably. The day before he was interviewed, the new IDF chief of staff appeared before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and declared he was taking action to ensure there would be no question regarding the victor of the next war. Even if we disregard the superfluous braggadocio of Gabi Ashkenazi's remarks, there is no doubt they represent an admission the IDF did not have the upper hand at the end of the war. It doesn't end there: Olmert's argument that the war changed Israel's strategic position for the better is refuted by other voices (including from within the military establishment) who believe Israel's deterrent powers were severely compromised in the war.

Olmert claims the decision-making process in his government is in good order and also was during the war. This contradicts his own claims (spread via his associates) that the investigations of the country's leadership are paralyzing them, impeding decision-making and driving away the most talented people in public service. It also ignores the calls during the war by retired senior officers such as Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and politicians such as Dan Meridor to change the way the war was being pursued and search for a way off the battlefield.

The logic behind the way the war was waged is one of the issues being examined by the Winograd Committee. Until the panel has its say, the compliments Olmert is giving himself in this area are nothing more than snake oil.

Olmert claims Israel is free from acts of terror. In saying so, he is attempting to make us forget the Qassam missiles being fired from the Gaza Strip into the western Negev, and to a greater extent, the mood in the IDF General Staff, which is preparing for a major military operation in Gaza. In other words, the current calm, according to the IDF's assessment, is the calm before the gathering storm. It is thus inaccurate for the prime minister to present it as a genuine achievement.

Olmert claims that within five years an arrangement will be reached between Israel and the Palestinians and with the entire Arab world. By saying so, the prime minister is counting imaginary vision among his achievements. In practice, during his tenure there has been no genuine movement toward ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, neither on the Palestinian nor the Syrian front. Olmert sounds believable when he talks about being tired of war and preferring the path of dialogue, but the speed at which he pushed the button in Lebanon and the skepticism that has characterized his response to diplomatic signals from Damascus and Ramallah undermine this impression.

The Olmert of this weekend's interviews is a very resilient person. There is something touching about the way he insists on presenting himself as a success story. Amazingly, he isn't suffering as prime minister and manages to protect himself from the darts sent his way over suspicions of corruption and his miserably low popularity. The psychological flak jacket he made for himself is itself disturbing: Isn't it evidence of just how out of touch he is with reality?