They Forgot About Expertise

Whoever defends himself after the fact, after a failure, and argues that he had not been ready for his role, is admitting that he accepted the assignment from the voters under false pretenses.

The state comptroller's report on the shortcomings of the handling of the home front, accumulated over recent years and popped like a blister during the war last summer, is only an example that represents a phenomenon: the pathetic level of expertise that in Israel is considered sufficient for running the country.

No form of verbal acrobatics, no delay in offering testimony and no defense mounted as an attack against the comptroller by the individual being criticized will transform the failure of the government and its organs in their handling of the home front in the North last July and August into an overwhelming success. And what took place in the summer is relatively minor compared with what could take place in an attack by a well-equipped military's missiles, armed with either conventional or other forms of warheads.

The politicians care about how they are perceived - will responsibility be directed at Ehud Olmert or Amir Peretz, the minister of public security or the interior minister, the chief of staff or the home front chief, or perhaps those that preceded them? But for the victims of these failures - which have not been corrected and which will not be corrected if politics interferes in the rapid implementation of the lessons - it is much more crucial that expert individuals be appointed in both the elected and the operational positions.

The issue that the comptroller's report presents, following a description of the situation at the grassroots level, will be precisely what the government in cabinet meetings, in ministries and in the IDF will discuss. It is expected that the public will be impressed - shocked even - from the insight that will be afforded. From what has been published to date, and of course on the basis of what State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will be asked to report tomorrow in his appearance before the Knesset State Control Committee, the Olmert government emerges as a government of improvisation and amateurism, lacking orderly status reports, without a proper division of labor, delineation of responsibility or application of the emergency plans that had been available and on the basis of which exercises had been held.

The home front is not the sole example. The diplomatic effort is handled similarly. For some reason, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been asked to explain the diplomatic failure that accompanied the negotiations and the formulation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 in a less demanding fashion than Peretz was asked to justify the defense-related effort. Israeli diplomacy under Olmert and Livni was not at its best during the war, from the start to the finish. The figure parallel to Chief of Staff Dan Halutz at the foreign ministry is its Director General Aharon Abramovitch, but he has not been asked to detail and justify if ministry resources were rallied and utilized in diplomatic contacts and appearances before the media. For example, what did Israel's missions to Washington and the United Nations do? And why were experienced ambassadors in important capitals in Europe not prepared so that they could contribute through their contacts?

Of all the excuses offered by Olmert and Peretz to their defense in recent months, the most upsetting is that they were new to the job. The prime minister and defense minister are expecting a forgiving attitude from the state comptroller, the Winograd Committee and the electorate because they had only had two to three months to warm up their seats on the day the war began in the North. No patient would accept a similar excuse from a doctor who had just completed his internship, and no homeowner would show understanding for a similar excuse from a plumber who comes to visit a leak and leaves behind him a deluge. Even if Winograd and Lindenstrauss can wait for Olmert to get ready, are Hassan Nasrallah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expected to also wait for him to announce that he is ready? Is Israel hereby declaring that it should not be attacked during the first quarter of a new government?

Whoever defends himself after the fact, after a failure, and argues that he had not been ready for his role, is admitting that he accepted the assignment from the voters under false pretenses. In Olmert's case this is a particularly dubious excuse after three years as vice premier in the government of Ariel Sharon and three months as acting prime minister. But even external candidates to the premiership are not exempt from in-depth preparation, or of personal responsibility for the working groups in the "shadow government."

The flimsy government of Olmert, and the embarrassing slips by Avi Dichter and Avigdor Lieberman in recent weeks, are signaling to the voters that an opinion, a party and appearing before the media are not enough. Expertise is essential. It is sad and ridiculous to think that out of this may emerge Benjamin Netanyahu, who made it to the post of prime minister lacking such expertise, having only served as an ambassador and deputy minister in the past.