Shin Bet Nixes PM's Italian Vacation

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be forced to spend his summer vacation next week - all five days of it - within the walls of the chilly, ceremonial fortress known as the Prime Minister's Residence, at 3 Balfour St. in Jerusalem.

Olmert does not want to go to a Galilee bed-and-breakfast, so as not to ruin the vacation of thousands of Israelis with the Shin Bet's extreme security measures. As a result of these security arrangements, the prime minister's motorcade (a recognized nuisance in the capital) ran over a young girl who was crossing the street at the entrance to the city on Friday.

Olmert's original plan was to spend his vacation in Italy. He wanted to rent, and pay out of pocket for, a house in a remote part of northern Italy for a quiet week with his family. His aides held a serious discussion about every aspect of the trip, from public relations to security and diplomatic-foreign relations. His men believed the move could send a message of reassurance to the Syrians: If the prime minister is vacationing abroad, he is not readying for war.

The Shin Bet was instructed to explore the issue, discretely, with their Italian counterpart. The PM naively thought he could take a few bodyguards with him to his vacation home and hang out there, with the Italian police and security services seeing to wider security concerns. He even discussed it with his Italian counterpart and friend Romano Prodi, who encouraged Olmert to come.

But after making inquiries, the Shin Bet informed the prime minister that it would not be so simple. If you go, they told Olmert, we'll have to send a Hercules with three armored cars and dozens of security officers. At that point, officials in the Prime Minister's Bureau realized that their problem wasn't Syria, it was with the legions of Internet jockeys who would be chasing after Olmert from their keyboards with axes, pitchforks and flaming torches in various Web forums. The vacation plan was dumped immediately.

Many world leaders vacation in other countries - Mitterrand and Chirac in the Caribbean; Schroeder, Merkel and Blair in France or Italy; Sarkozy spent his recent vacation in New Hampshire. American presidents spend their one-month summer vacations far from the White House in Washington. But the Israeli mentality cannot tolerate this. Olmert long since realized, fortunately for him, that the kind of foreign vacation that the Shin Bet had planned for him would cost the Israeli taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. And that's the last thing he needs right now.