Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was saved. There are no other words that can describe the political-public reality that has been created in the wake of the publication of the Winograd Commission’s report. The scathing criticism leveled at the army by the commission, the harsh words directed at the decision-making processes that have been set years earlier, and the almost complete backing given to the decision to embark on the war’s final operation – all of these turned the report from a serious indictment to a public lifesaver for Ehud Olmert.
Amir Peretz too, the former defense minister, can be pleased. For many months he was slammed for the decision to embark on the final ground operation. Today, Justice Eliyahu Winograd endorsed that operation and removed the stain that tainted it. Both politically and publicly, Peretz can breathe easy. The cloud of foreign considerations has been lifted.
At the same time, the harsh words leveled at the political leadership over its conduct during the war cannot be ignored. Time and again, Justice Winograd mentioned the failures in the decision-making process and the problematic interface between the political and military echelons. However, this interface is not a result of two months in power, but rather, many years of negligence, that continued during Ariel Sharon’s tenure as prime minister and Shaul Mofaz’s term as chief of staff and defense minister.
Despite the reactions uttered by the politicians almost naturally in the wake of the report’s publication, an earthquake is not on the horizon. Kadima has backed the prime minister in almost full force, and it is very doubtful whether Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will try to cook up a putsch in the face of the reality created after 6 pm Wednesday. For the time being, Kadima’s senior figures are standing by their leader.
The only one to keep his cards close to his chest is Defense Minister Ehud Barak. However, Barak too should know that when Justice Winograd says that the political leadership’s decisions were reasonable throughout the war, and the problem was their execution on the ground, that is, by the army, this is not something that can be used to create a political crisis. Barak should know that now, more than ever, he bears the responsibility for preparing the army for the next confrontation, rather than dragging the nation into one kind of political chaos or another.
Wrong time for political messEven if Ehud Barak had rosy dreams, it is doubtful whether he had one where he could predict such a convenient way to back out of his pledge to leave the government over the report, made during the Labor primaries. In the past few months Barak did not face even one day where he truly wanted to leave the government. The commission’s report gives him the means to back out of his pledge, focus on his defense duties, and prepare for the general elections to be held in the future.
The defense minister has no substantial reason to quit the government and create a political drama at this time. When he entered the government he knew what he was getting into, and he was well familiar with the conclusions of the interim Winograd report. For the sake of comparison, the final report is much more moderate and there is almost no place where the political leadership takes the blame on its own, without any mention of the military leadership.
In fact, what has emerged in the final report is that the army failed in successfully implementing many of the decisions taken by the political leadership. The army failed to meet the mission, the report said, and it is doubtful whether a serious defense minister needs more than that to realize that this is the time for repairs, not for a political mess.
In the coming days, Barak is expected to carefully weigh the words he will be using in his public statement, yet it is clear that the amount of time he can dedicate to thinking has been shortened considerably.
The Labor party chairman cannot hide or play political games. He would not be able to demand that Olmert be replaced by Kadima, as such move would not materialize, and he would also not be able to rely on the demand to set an agreed upon election date as a way of delivering on his pledge.
After all, elections that are not held within a few months would turn into a farce, a political joke, which Barak would be sure to sustain scathing criticism over.