Olmert / The Right Stuff?

The interim report of the Winograd Committee, which is slated for release tomorrow afternoon, should be read with an eye to the future, not the past. The question at the center of public debate will not be "who is to blame for the failures in the war?," but rather whether or not Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is the right person to lead the country in the face of the diplomatic and military challenges it is likely to face in the future.

Following the resignation of former chief of staff Dan Halutz and the imminent departure of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Olmert will be alone among those responsible for the war to remain in his post. His determination to hold onto his office despite low approval ratings and the conclusions of the Winograd report will be sorely tested. The committee will be extremely critical of Olmert's decision-making on July 12, the day Israel embarked on war.

Judging by the selections from the draft report quoted this weekend by Chico Menashe of Channel 10 news, it seems that the committee rejected Olmert's claim that he had prepared for months for the possibility that soldiers would be abducted in the north and for a confrontation with Hezbollah. The committee is convinced that the decision to go to war was a rash one, made under the pressure of the army's demands. Sociologist Yagil Levy reached the same conclusion in the early days of the war, writing in Haaretz: "In the history of the relationship between the political and military leaderships of Israel, the government has never made such a significant decision so quickly..."

So, has the panicked rush to war disqualified Olmert from continuing his tenure? Can such a man lead Israel in possible confrontations with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and possibly with Syria in the Golan Heights? Or, on the other hand, does the experience he gained as a result of the Lebanon War and his understanding of the limitations of force and the problems of controlling an army, make him a more suitable leader?

It is sufficient to observe Olmert's continued hesitation to adopt the recommendations of the Israel Defense Forces to invade the Gaza Strip to understand his emergence from the illusion of utilizing force that guided him last summer.

Olmert's defense will focus on the collective responsibility of the cabinet, which unanimously supported going to war. Even if ministers do not rush to the media to defend him, it will be difficult for them to attack the prime minister when their jingoistic statements at that crucial cabinet meeting of July 12 are made public. His strongest card is that the politicians are not eager for new elections. The apathy of the public since the end of the war will also help keep Olmert in office.