The good news about Ehud Olmert is that he is not a willful murderer of Israeli soldiers. The bad news is that he is the most inept and arrogant Israeli prime minister in the country's history.
While the Winograd Commission investigating the Second Lebanon War has absolved Olmert of the worst accusation ever made against an Israeli prime minister--that he sent 33 soldiers to their deaths on a useless mission, whose only purpose was to bolster his image as a tough leader--the commission did confirm what the Israeli public has sensed since August 2006: that the Lebanon War was the worst military defeat in Israel's history, that the IDF missed an unprecedented opportunity to restore calm to Israel's borders and restore its shattered deterrence, and that Olmert's judgment was flawed at every crucial step.
Throngs of bereaved parents and reservist officers from the
Until Olmert's election, every Israeli prime minister could lay claim to the Zionist ethos of heroism.
Olmert, neither founder nor hero, is the first professional politician to serve as prime minister. Yet, in resisting calls for his resignation, he is insisting on being absolved of the standards for personal accountability in war to which other prime ministers were held. Golda Meir and her defense minister, Moshe Dayan, were forced from office by an outraged public because of failure in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, while Menachem Begin and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, were compelled to resign because of failure in the first Lebanon War in 1982. Olmert, though, sees himself as immune from such archaic values as personal responsibility. Even before the release of the final version of the Winograd report, Olmert had announced that he wouldn't resign no matter what the commission concluded.
Olmert's fatal flaw, and the source of his failure in
Israelis, who are repeatedly called upon to defend their country, have to trust their leaders' integrity. Even if Olmert has been vindicated of the accusation that he sacrificed 33 soldiers for personal gain, he remains the first Israeli prime minister widely perceived to place his own interests above those of the nation. Olmert still faces nearly a half-dozen criminal investigations and, according to a recent poll, is seen by Israelis as the country's most corrupt leader, a clever lawyer who's managed to keep one step ahead of the law. That perception could undermine morale in wartime. Israelis may well ask whether a leader who failed so miserably in war and then refused to take personal responsibility for that failure has the right to send their sons into war again.
Olmert's political longevity will also have devastating consequences for his political party, Kadima, the first centrist party to form a government. In linking the center to his own persona, Olmert will drive many Kadima voters back to the right or the left. Olmert's failure is ideological, too. The hope of Kadima was to free Israeli politics from the contest between two equally non-viable alternatives: "greater
Yossi Klein Halevi is a contributing editor of The
By Yossi Klein Halevi