Tightening the Noose

The elderly retired judge Eliyahu Winograd placed the noose around Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's neck and tightened it slightly. Now it remains to be seen who will kick away the shaky stool on which Olmert is teetering.

Will it be Ehud Barak, who might soon proclaim that the Olmert government has ended its historic role and that if he, Barak, wins the primaries he will not join it? Will it be public protest, expected to gather momentum in the coming days? Will the fateful kick come from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni? She mumbled something noncommittal yesterday in a meeting of Kadima ministers, which only served to show her lack of courage, the same lack of courage that stopped her from standing her ground during the war. The report distances Livni from the office of prime minister. Experience, experience, experience, the stern-faced judge said. Command and military experience is what a prime minister needs in Israel.

If the first five days of the war - days of military achievements, euphoria and Churchillianism - took such a fatal blow, one can only imagine what will be said in the report dealing with the entire war, the home front and the last action.

Olmert has two options: resign, or die a slow, humiliating political death, torturous, undignified and foretold. Following yesterday's meeting of Kadima ministers, Olmert's associates tried to get the cabinet members to sign a letter of support for the prime minister. They soon abandoned the idea. Three ministers went to the TV studios to defend Olmert: the faithful Roni Bar-On, the rebellious Meir Sheetrit - both of whom are looking longingly at the Finance Ministry - and Shimon Peres, who is still thinking about the presidency, but also about the premiership. Under the circumstances, Peres has a better chance of becoming prime minister than president if Olmert steps down. Elections are also an option, but only as a last resort and against the collective will of the lawmakers.

The last option - a government led by Netanyahu in this Knesset - is very slim. A faction with 12 MKs headed by a man like Netanyahu cannot pull together a government.

All the basic assumptions about the political system over the past few weeks collapsed with the release of the report yesterday. The Prime Minister's Office assumed the report would be something he could survive. Another Olmert government would be established, with a new finance minister, and at the end of the month Barak or Ami Ayalon would become Labor Party chair and would be appointed defense minister. Then the government would embark on a new path, with a daring diplomatic program.

But Olmert has no political or diplomatic horizon, only an increasing pile of trouble in almost every sphere. Only a serious military crisis, a war in Gaza or on the northern front, led by another defense minister and chief of staff, could lengthen Olmert's time in office.