Olmert's Speech / Tough Talk

Every greenhorn politician and budding debater learns this rule: "When your case is weak, raise your voice." Ehud Olmert, in a live broadcast carried on every channel and facing a supportive audience of mayors, had to raise his voice numerous times last night.

His arguments were not weak. Basically, they are still valid. But after 20 days of war, Hezbollah, whom Olmert said was seriously damaged, can still fire 140 rockets a day. So, with the Qana disaster, the Israel Defense Forces' setbacks, Israel's dismal international image and a 48-hour bombing halt declared under American pressure, Olmert had no choice but to shout.

His body language was aggressive and belligerent. His words were forceful, but conveyed a certain ambiguity about the fighting's goals. He did not try to flatter the public.

He is a Likudnik again, a Likud Knesset member said with admiration. But Olmert quoted Ben-Gurion and Natan Alterman, not Jabotinsky and Uri Zvi Greenberg.

Mentioning the names of some 20 civilians and soldiers who died in the war was unnecessary. Nobody suspects Olmert of not grieving for each one. The public is still behind him and the government, but question marks are popping up all over and there is a noticeable change in the air. The politicians are waiting for the war to end before voicing their criticism of the army's functioning, the war's management, and the prime and defense ministers' lack of experience.

Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik asked Olmert to make his speech in the Knesset, but he sent Defense Minister Amir Peretz to the plenum. Knowing what the Arab MKs had in store for Peretz, Itzik arranged a supportive audience of combat soldiers who had returned from the battles in the north.

It was Peretz's first speech in the plenum since the battles began. The Arabs called him a murderer and the angel of death and were removed from the hall. It was strange to see the Arabs, who until the elections were seen as Peretz's natural allies, curse and castigate him, while the rightists, from Benjamin Netanyahu to Nissim Zeev, embraced him.

Peretz tried to restore some of his past glory. "As a man of peace, I say to you," he read from the page. "Man of peace," hissed Zahava Gal-On of Meretz. "Amir Peretz, a man of peace. How ludicrous."

This did not hurt Peretz politically. For the Arabs, the war has finished him in any case, and listening to their shouts, 80 percent of the public will side with him automatically. However, it was impossible to ignore the silence of his faction members. Apart from Yoram Marciano, none defended him. At the end of the debate, in the vote on a resolution, not all Labor MKs even entered the hall. They, too, feel the change in the air.