One Last Chance

In a sense, the publication of the Winograd Committee report will be a last chance. It will give a belated and final opportunity to internalize what we discovered during the Second Lebanon War, and to heal Israel.

In the narrow, immediate sense, the Second Lebanon War was a war of folly; a serious instance of a failure of leadership. The leaders of summer 2006 bear responsibility for the fact that they conducted a national event of crucial importance with criminal negligence.

Almost all the leaders were forced to take responsibility for their negligence. The division commander, the head of command, the deputy chief of staff, the chief of staff, the defense minister - are gone. Only the prime minister remains. If even after the Winograd report Ehud Olmert continues to serve in his position, the concept of responsibility will be of no significance in our lives.

However, there was another broad and profound meaning to the war. It exposed that there is no congruence between 21st-century Israel and the challenges it faces.

The war exposed that the national leadership is not worthy: Instead of dealing with the fundamental problems of Israeli existence it is engaged in personal survival and political manipulation, and the central government is sterile - it is incapable of planning, governing and ensuring that the country functions properly.

Another fact exposed in the war is that the Israel Defense Forces is not the outstanding army that it has to be. And also, that Israeli society has in recent decades adopted an extreme ethos of individualism, which has weakened the values of civic obligation, mutual responsibility and solidarity. The war exposed that Israel has become a flourishing market-economy state with a flawed political culture - lacking depth and integrity, negligent and bloated.

A few days after the war and the silencing of the Katyushas the prime minister said the war had been a blessing because it had revealed in time those things in Israel that needed repair. In this case Olmert was telling the truth.

In a narrow sense, this was a scandalous and unnecessary war, but in the broader sense, the war created a one-time opportunity. It presented us with a clear and hair-raising picture of the illness that has befallen us and forced us to turn the following year into a year of healing. Of reconstructing a very ill body politic.

But 2007 was not a year of healing; on the contrary. Neither 6 percent growth nor luxury towers along the Ayalon Highway can conceal that the situation remains unchanged.

The national leadership is cynical, the central government is emasculated, the army is making an effort and training, but is still plagued by draft-dodging and mediocrity. The social gaps are unprecedented, solidarity is crumbling.

At the end of a year that was supposed to be a turning point, it is completely clear that if one morning the sirens wail again they will surprise us exactly as did the sirens of summer 2006. They will find us in the same crisis of leadership and values. As though we had not been warned, as though 33 days of bereavement and failure did not present us with a cruel picture of our situation.

The main responsibility for missing out on the opportunity of 2007 lies with the prime minister.

He is the reason the outgoing year was not the year of Israel's rehabilitation, but the year of Olmert's survival. But even the prime minister's opponents - including this writer - bear responsibility. They were also dragged into an exaggerated preoccupation with a man rather than an issue, with blame rather than construction.

Yes, Olmert must resign. But his resignation is not an end in itself. His resignation must signal and bring about an overall change in concepts and values.

In about two weeks from now the Winograd Committee report will be published.

The forces are already arrayed: Some will attack and others will repel attacks, some will emphasize the failures and others will whitewash them. However, Winograd Day will be much more important than all these petty issues.

In a sense, it will be the day of the last chance. It will give all of us a belated and final opportunity to internalize what we discovered during the Second Lebanon War, and to heal Israel.