There are fissures growing both within the IDF and within the Israeli cabinet over the leadership of the war in Lebanon. First, the commander of northern forces, Gen. Udi Adam, was replaced by the deputy chief of staff of the IDF in a decided vote of no confidence in the former’s military leadership. Now, Ehud Olmert, in a fit of pique, has ‘fired’ Tsipi Livni from an upcoming trip to the UN to discuss the latest ceasefire resolution approved by the Security Council. This will of course look quite odd when all the other foreign ministers join the debate on behalf of their nations.
Why the brouhaha? Apparently, Livni has been AWOL when it comes to talking up the war:
The cabinet began Thursday its marketing plan to the Security Council to secure the end of the war and play up Israel’s successes. Then the obligatory crisis erupted: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert barred Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni from attending the United Nations Security Council sessions.
Livni has been planning the trip for several days. She planned to address the council,speak to colleagues and meet the Jewish community. But Olmert said “No.” His reasons were that Livni asked for his approval too late, that there was no point going after the resolution was drafted, and that Foreign Ministry professionals objected. But that was just the cover. Olmert brought his lingering animosity to Livni out into the open.
A short time after the fighting erupted, Olmert pushed Livni out of his close circle.
When he read she was displaying “independence,” he sent Shimon Peres for diplomatic talks overseas. Thursday, one of his aides said: “Livni has been telling journalists for three days that she’s going to the UN, but remembered to get Olmert’s approval an hour and a half before taking off.”
Livni objected to continuing with the military operation, which, she believes, had consummated itself in the first two days. She voted against bombarding Hezbollah headquarters in the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut for fear of escalation. Since then, she has supported the decisions, but kept a low profile. She did not run from one television studio to another to justify the war and muster support for ground operations. She sought a diplomatic solution.
She suggested starting a political process at the same time as the military one, and sending an international force to South Lebanon. Olmert was not keen at first, but ultimately clutched at her suggestions like a life belt to get out of the military entanglement.
At the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Livni made it clear to the IDF chiefs, who proposed an operation that would take a month or two, that if a political way out was found in a day or two, they would have to stop in their tracks.
“Have you completed the operation we approved the last time already?” she asked them.
“Not yet,” they answered.
What is fascinating about the passage that follows is that, if true, it appears that Olmert himself no longer has faith in the IDF and that he was desperate to find a way to save himself from the all-out offensive the IDF had been promising:
On Monday night, after visiting the Northern Command, Olmert was convinced that the war must be stopped. He did not like the operational plans he was shown, and was not thrilled with the army’s performance.
For three weeks, he has been hearing daily that tomorrow the IDF will gain control of Bint Jbail and the town is still swarming with lethal Hezbollah fighters. He did not trust the army to stop the rocket fire even in a prolonged operation.
Since then, Olmert has mobilized a coalition to release him from the grand military operation, which, according to IDF estimates, would involve hundreds of fatalities.
When one considers the recently approved UN resolution, one has to ask who won and who lost. In truth, neither side won or lost. But as many commentators have said, when neither side wins it is really Hezbollah that wins and Israel that loses. The resolution makes no provision for returning Israel’s kidnapped soldiers. It calls for the disarming of Hezbollah but provides no mechanism to do so. Instead of the carte blanche Israel expected to retain its forces in southern Lebanon, the resolution specifies a phased withdrawal of its forces.
The only points that Israel ‘won’ (if you call this winning) is that there is no mention of an Israeli return of Shebaa Farms and Israel is specifically allowed to continue “defensive” operations (how you distinguish “defensive” from “offensive” operations is the $64,000 question) while Hezbollah is called upon to completely cease its attacks on Israel.
But basically the ceasefire resolution marks an admission by Israel that war has not gained its objectives. In fact, the price the war demanded in IDF and civilian deaths was too high for Israel to pay. It is a good thing that Olmert has seen the light. A loss in Lebanon will not destroy Israel. It will tarnish its reputation for military prowess. But perhaps it will make Olmert (or whoever the next prime minister is who follows him since Israeli journalists are already calling for his resignation) realize that a negotiated political solution is the only one that will work. It’s unlikely that the pols will get this message–but one can always hope.
Diane M says
Do you think think Olmert-Livni brouhaha might be a sign of things to come in Kadima? Unilateral convergence must surely be off the table now, and that was the party’s raison d’etre. I wonder if they will find a new glue strong enough to hold them together, especially through all the recriminations that are going to follow from the war. What do you think?
Richard Silverstein says
It’s a really good & tough question to answer. I completely agree that the coalition now has little if anything to hold it together. Fr. everything I read in the Israeli press, convergence (or whatever the hell Olmert is calling it this day) is DOA. I just don’t see any major initiatives coming fr. Olmert after the Lebanon debacle. Why he couldn’t foresee the enormous damage Lebanon would do to his legacy & to his ability to maneuver the shoals of Israeli politics I have no idea.
I think this is why Livni is staking a claim to ground slightly to Olmert’s left. Perhaps she still believes in the possibility of a moderate centrist party like Kadima under diff. leadership (her own, doubtless). Stranger things have happened.
What happens to Peretz? He’s stupidly hitched his wagon to Kadima-Olmert’s star & now he’s yoked together w. him with Lebanon like an albatross around both their necks. Peretz seemed like such a hopeful candidate at one time. I knew all along that taking Defense was a big mistake for him (& wrote that here). But he did it & I don’t see how he recovers politically. And w. his political petrifaction, I don’t see how Labor presents any sort of viable alternative.
Likud is on the ascendancy for the time being (a horrid thought). I think it will take time for Israel to digest the tragedy that was inflicted upon it by their leadership–just as it will take time for the Lebanese to do the same regarding Hezbollah. Until then, politics in Israel becomes a hopeless mishmash of recriminations, crossfire, etc. It’ll be like the “Who lost China” debate here in the U.S. after “Red” China went Commie in 1949. Ugly!
One small thing I do find hopeful. A Haaretz commentator & Itamar Rabinovitch have both said that the Separation Wall is also dead as a viable policy since Hezbollah has proven the inadequacy of such a barrier to rockets. Of course, the Palestinians do not yet have the rocket power or expertise of Hezbollah to deliver that kind of pain to Israel. But given Hezbollah’s example, perhaps it’s only a matter of time. At any rate, perhaps–just perhaps w. the death of convergence AND the Wall almost simultaneously, Israeli moderates will begin seeking a viable alternative. This might just lead to a dawning realization that talking, negotiating & compromising is the only way out. Out of bitter defeat sometimes comes the need to confront reality w. a different approach than the one that failed. Who knows. Maybe it could happen. I’m not holding my breath though.
Wish I could be more optimistic & think that Israel will think its way out of this mess. Can’t say it’s managed to do that up till now. Though I’d always love to be proven wrong in my pessimism.