Preventing the Third Lebanon War

If the public has lost its trust in a leader who has to make decisions concerning life-and-death issues, the leader must go.

Late last week, following the publication of the State Comptroller's report on the Israel Investments Center, Ehud Olmert declared that he had lost his confidence in retired judge Micha Lindenstrauss. The prime minister asked the public to ignore the findings of the comptroller regarding suspicions of corruption against him. What will the prime minister say today, following the publication of the interim report of the committee probing the failures of the Second Lebanon War? Will he say that he has lost his faith in retired judge, Dr. Eliyahu Winograd, and the professors and generals serving on the committee? Were Olmert not a petty politician, he would go home today and save us the protest rallies and the interviews with Motti Ashkenazi.

Even if every Kadima MK sides with him, Olmert has to go. Even if Labor bites the bullet on the matter of the Winograd report, and along with Yisrael Beiteinu they decide to commit political suicide, Olmert must not remain in the Prime Minister's Office. He has lost the trust of the public, without which no leader in a democracy can fulfill his role. This is even more true for a leader who has to make decisions concerning life-and-death issues. With a 3-percent approval rating even before the report was published, it is impossible to lead soldiers to war. With a party and a coalition that do not represent the wishes of their constituents, it is not possible to pull Israel out of the territories in return for peace with the members of the Arab League.

Olmert needs to go, in spite the fact that his poor conduct during the confrontation in the North was not any worse than that of other prime ministers: The Second Lebanon War lasted five weeks and cost 163 Israel lives. By comparison, the first Lebanon war, under Menachem Begin, ended after 18 years and 1,216 deaths. Ehud Barak escaped the "wild south" without a UN Security Council resolution to deploy the Lebanese Army there, accompanied by international peacekeepers. Ariel Sharon turned a blind eye for five years to the arming of Hezbollah with missiles capable of threatening Haifa and Hadera. If an investigative committee were appointed to probe the conduct of Israeli governments during the intifada, in which more than 1,100 Israelis lost their lives in six and a half years - Olmert would not have been the most prominent figure mentioned in the report.

The shortcomings that emerged during the first and second wars in Lebanon, and the period between them, are frighteningly similar to the failures of the Yom Kippur War. The decision-making process in relation to the peace "signals" and the threats of war, on the part of Syria, and the policy with respect to the Arab peace initiative, highlight what Prof. Yehezkel Dror, a member of the Winograd Committee, wrote in his new book: "The principle of long-term vision contravenes to a great extent the culture of governance in Israel, which in most areas tends to think one step, or at most two steps ahead. Other countries also invest a lot more thought in planning the first stages of a process than the final stage."

A short while after he had the chance to assess firsthand that the political leadership did not learn a thing from the wars of the past, the Israel Prize laureate in political science wrote that "the war is full of historical and current examples of blatant failures stemming from this. However, Israel cannot allow itself such stupidity. Limited thinking, one or two steps ahead, is a very serious mistake. Grand strategy needs to be thought of in terms of historical processes that continue into the distant future ... and a focus on time frames of five to 25 years."

We should be reminded that the central role of the Winograd Committee, like the Agranat Commission of inquiry into the failures of the Yom Kippur War, or the Or Commission investigation of the events of October 2000, is first and foremost to prevent the recurrence of failures and problems that existed in the previous confrontation. The unfortunate habit of the public to focus on the individual leaders who failed instead of dealing with the substance of the issue distracts the focus from the genuinely important findings and the substantive recommendations of the commissions of inquiry.

One can hope that, by going home, Olmert will bequeath to the Winograd Committee report a longer and better life than the dead reports that preceded it. This will be his modest contribution to preventing the Third Lebanon War.