The Year of the Zigzag

The rivalry between our two intelligence agencies is enough to make you dizzy. But what do they know? Did they predict last year that there would be another war in Lebanon?

Apart from the dramatic news that the singing duo Datz and Datza are finally getting divorced, two nights from now, we will be bidding farewell to a year in which nothing that happened was predicted or certain.

Take peace with Syria, for example. Is Bashar Assad really willing to negotiate, or interested in negotiating, with Israel? It depends whom you ask. The chief of the Mossad claims we have no information to that effect. But the head of Military Intelligence's research division says yes, Assad is prepared to be politically flexible. Two agencies that constitute the basis of our defense system are busy contradicting one another, and not for the first time.

Then we have Ehud Olmert putting in his two cents: Talking to Syria goes against the interests of George Bush, so it is not going to happen. The next day, he changes his mind: Dialogue with Syria is possible. Tzipi Livni hears this and says Syria is ready for an agreement. Barely an hour goes by and Olmert backtracks: There has been no change in the Syrian position. Then comes the Foreign Ministry's response: The signals from Damascus are genuine and Assad will agree to a "cold peace." So who's got it right? Zig or zag?

The rivalry between our two intelligence agencies is enough to make you dizzy. The Mossad is now predicting an attack on Israel this coming summer, but Military Intelligence says nothing doing. Come to think of it, what do they know? Did they predict last year that this year there would be another war in Lebanon?

Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres used to say that in the matter of peace agreements, intelligence has always fallen down on the job. Can we trust the Mossad's assessment that Iran will have nuclear weapons three years from now? And how will we know that Israel is ready to take preemptive action? When the chief of staff gives orders to his bank to sell his shares?

Last week, Olmert paid a surprise visit to King Abdullah of Jordan. A new political initiative? A report on his invitation to Mahmoud Abbas? The mystery question is what Olmert said to the king to make him run off and tell a Japanese newspaper that "Israel is not as strong as we thought." Is that what Olmert told him? And is that any way to show gratitude for our rescuing Jordan from a Syrian invasion back in September 1970? When Syrian troops massed along the Jordanian border, Israel presented an ultimatum that made the Syrians pull back. The naughty joke going around in those days was that Golda Meir had warned the Syrian army: Over my (dead) body.

But Jordan's ungrateful king is not the only one spoiling our reputation. The U.S. senators who came to visit also expressed doubt that Israel was still the superman of the Middle East and a deterrent, stabilizing force. The three musketeers of the Lebanon War - Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz - seriously damaged Israel's image as a mythical powerhouse with reckless decisions comparable to none.

The most pathetic of the three is Peretz, who bragged that he "gave the orders," he "led" the campaign, etcetera, etcetera. Now he is crying that Olmert has neutralized him and he is no longer part of the decision-making process. But after the zig - whining about his misfortunes - comes the zag: "I'm made of tough stuff. I don't break so fast. I know how to fight, and I know how to win."

Stupid he's not, but Peretz would have been a hell of a defense minister if he had vetoed the war and sided with Rafi Eitan's proposal that "Israel will respond when and where it sees fit." Without Peretz, Olmert would not have gone to war. As Ehud Barak likes to say, unlike sports, where the main thing is participating, in war, the main thing is winning.

The eight-month-old Olmert administration is weak and battered. None of its ministers or Knesset supporters are very anxious for early elections, so the chances of this happening are slim. But in these zigzag times of ours, anything is possible. The bomb could fall when Olmert, Peretz and Halutz are called in for questioning by the Winograd Commission, if, as a result, the commission issues an interim report so devastating that it sets off a public tsunami, like the one after the Yom Kippur War, and sends Olmert flying.

With a prime minister who declares his country a nuclear power, but cannot do anything about the Qassam rockets or Hamas, which is preparing for an offensive, Israel is zigzagging its way toward 2007 as a place that is not exactly fun to live in.