|Wingorad Commission discusses war failures Photo: Avi Ochayon, GPO|
Has Olmert overcome Lebanon?
Only a year has passed since the ceasefire, yet the war is barely being discussed
On the one hand, the Winograd Commission already ruled that the war in Lebanon was not a great success. President Assad also got it and made his conclusions regarding the deterioration of Israel's deterrent power.
On the other hand, Olmert is enjoying some backing and even Labor Party ministers are no longer calling on him to quit. Olmert, in his own mind, has survived the Lebanon failures.
Last Wednesday marked exactly a year since the ceasefire in the Second Lebanon War. Olmert argues that Israel won, despite the failures. His critics, headed by the commission of inquiry into the war, argue that we're talking about a blatant failure.
This political question has many implications, both in the immediate term for the prime minister's survivability and the long term, regarding Israel's status in the Middle East and international community. The answers to the questions are complex, and depend on who we ask.
Major-General (res) Giora Eiland, who headed the National Security Council up until a month and a half before the war, divided the answer into three parts: "In terms of the war's immediate results, there's no doubt that we really didn't succeed, or as Winograd says – we failed. We failed to defeat Hizbullah and sustained 33 days of rocket fire on the home front that completely disrupted the lives of northern residents.
"Yet when we examine the war through the lens of Security Council Resolution 1701, then we have some achievements here. In the year since the war there has been no dramatic incident in which Hizbullah acted against us. Hizbullah is deployed north of the Litani and the immediate threat to Israel's residents has been lifted," Eiland said.
"On the other hand," he added, "There is one matter on the strategic level that is still unclear. The question of what the war did to Hizbullah's status in Lebanon is still open. If in a year or two Hizbullah will regain its status, that is, as the most significant power in Lebanon, and perceived as Lebanon's protector, then it would be very clear that we lost the war.
"This is overwhelmed by a much more significant strategic issue: Since the peace agreements with Egypt, Jordan, and later Oslo, both Assad Sr and Assad Jr realized that Israel cannot be defeated militarily. After the last war, Bashar Assad's opinion has changed, and he believes that Israel has lost its deterrent power. This is the clearest loss of the last war," Eiland said.
The sense among the ministers we spoke to is that even if Israel did not win the war, right now they should not be calling on Olmert to quit. Ministers in Kadima and the Pensioners' Party are backing Olmert almost completely. On the surface, with the exception of Livni, none of them believes Olmert should be going home after failing in Lebanon.
Labor Party ministers, headed by Ehud Barak, are much more skeptical. Yet after Olmert survived the minor putsch attempt immediately after the publication of the Winograd interim report, they prefer to keep silent. None of them wishes to join Eitan Cabel, who quit and has almost disappeared since then.
Meanwhile, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu ministers, who are more contemplative regarding the question of our victory in the war, are not calling on Olmert to go.
So what's the conclusion then? The prime minister may have lost to Nasrallah, but somehow he is defeating the Lebanon failures.
As noted, only a year has passed since the ceasefire, yet Lebanon is barely being discussed. Yes, here and there the successors are paying lip service, yet Barak and Netanyahu are no longer certain that Winograd will topple Olmert. They don't declare it out loud, yet this is what they think.
One Labor Party minister, who does not wish to openly confront a prime minister who approved a boost of tens of millions of shekels to his ministry last week, shifted the responsibility to the people: "If the interim Winograd report didn't topple him, what news will the final report bring? Everything depends on the public atmosphere following the publication."
Meanwhile, Olmert maintains a no-war-and-no-peace tension with Syria, and in between chats with Abbas, without any map that would guide us. Olmert and Abbas are both learning what their predecessors learned since Oslo, that is, peace is like the horizon – it moves away the closer one gets to it.
Yet as long as they continue to babble about it (withdrawing from 60 to 90 percent of the West Bank, an agreement in principle, a final-status agreement,) the new chatter erases the Lebanon nightmare from memory.
And so, only 160 bereaved families, a few reservists and combat soldiers, one state comptroller, two former ministers, and a handful of journalists remember what Winograd told Olmert only three and a half months ago. There is no doubt that this is convenient for Olmert. There is no argument that the public and politicians, both colleagues and rivals, have no energy.
And so, for the time being, Ehud Olmert overcame Lebanon.
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