Feature

Israelis Clamor for Olmert’s Resignation

Report calls for the prime minister to step down because of actions against Hezbollah.

What happened
The centrist coalition government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was on the verge of collapse this week, after a government report harshly criticized his leadership during last summer's war in Lebanon. The Winograd Commission said Olmert was guilty of 'œa serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility, and prudence' when he decided to attack Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that had kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Olmert's announced goal of crushing Hezbollah was 'œoverly ambitious and impossible to achieve,' enabling Hezbollah to claim a major propaganda victory by simply surviving the Israeli assault, the commission said. The report also assailed Defense Minister Amir Peretz for not understanding 'œthe basic principles of using military force to achieve political goals.' More than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and combatants died in the fighting, as did 119 Israeli soldiers and 39 civilians.

Avigdor Yitzhaki, the parliamentary leader of Olmert's Kadima party, demanded the prime minister resign, 'œin order for Kadima to return to being a legitimate ruling party.' Olmert refused, saying, 'œI will not shirk my responsibility and will fix all the mistakes.' Yitzhaki then quit in protest, and polls showed that two-thirds of Israelis wanted Olmert to step down. 'œThe public has lost faith in the prime minister,' said Eitan Cabel, a Labor Party member of the ruling coalition who resigned from the Cabinet this week.

What the editorials said
Nobody comes out of this report looking good, said The Jerusalem Post. Right now the heat is on Olmert, but bear in mind that his decision to invade Lebanon 'œwas overwhelmingly supported by his Cabinet, opposition politicians, and the public.' As for Peretz, he actually admits that he shouldn't have accepted the post of defense minister, given that 'œdefense was neither a field of his expertise nor his most passionate interest.' This debacle, then, was a failing of 'œthe entire government.' Obviously Olmert will have to go'”but he shouldn't be the only one.

You've got to admire the Israelis for their willingness to face hard truths, said The New York Times. They may have 'œbadly botched' the war, but at least they admit it. The Winograd Commission said Olmert 'œwas too hasty' in deciding to wage war, that he had no plan, that he had unrealistic goals, and 'œthat he failed to consult beyond an inner military circle of true believers.' All of that should sound familiar to Americans: Just substitute Bush for Olmert and Iraq for Lebanon. The difference is that Israelis are likely to take appropriate action.

What the columnists said
Israel must finally grapple with the limits of military power, said Aluf Benn in Salon.com. The report found that Israeli generals and politicians alike had been implicitly relying on the military's fierce reputation to deter adversaries. 'œBy this analysis,' the report said, 'œthere was no need to prepare for war, but there was also no need to eagerly seek paths toward stable, long-term agreements with our neighbors.' Now that the myth of the all-powerful Israeli Defense Forces has been shattered, policymakers will have to pursue diplomacy. 'œFeeling vulnerable, rather than invincible, may be the greater source of security in the long run.'

For America, though, Israeli military fallibility comes as bad news, said John Podhoretz in the New York Post. As Iran rushes to develop a nuclear bomb, dithering world leaders assume they need do nothing, since Israel 'œwill do what needs to be done' when the time comes. After all, the Israelis bombed Saddam Hussein's reactor back in 1981. In its current sorry state, though, the IDF can't lift a finger against Iran.

It's a miracle Israel is still standing, said Sima Kadmon in Tel Aviv's Yedioth Ahronoth. Our entire system failed. 'œThis is a country whose army disappointed it. It is a country whose government is pathetic and whose ministers are unworthy of serving in their posts.' The future has seldom looked so bleak.

What next?

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