This week we marked the Second Lebanon War’s third anniversary: Not quite a cause for celebration. There are things that have changed around here since July 12, 2006, while other things did not change at all.
In one area at least, we saw a true change: Our national leadership. We dismissed a top brass that made its decisions hastily, and instead we got a top brass that cannot decide at all. We wanted a Julius Caesar, but we got two Hamlets; Danish princesses.
It appears there is no need to review the mistakes made by the previous Olmert-led government, with Peretz as defense minister and Halutz as chief of staff, in respect to the hasty move that prompted the IDF to embark on war and to the way the war was managed. The report has been drafted, the conclusions have been drawn, and what wasn’t said in the report was decided in the public’s psyche and within the political arena.
Two and a half years after the war ended, a new government took power, with two figures at its heart: Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. They arrived at their senior posts after experiencing everything: Being in power and being in opposition, heading the government, and heading its most senior ministries. There is no position they haven’t faced and no process which they did not see from up close. Their accumulated experience was supposed to serve them in their old-new posts.
But an impressive resume is one thing while experience is quite another. Experience is something you learn from; what you have on your resume is biographical detail that adorns a CV. One of the first journalists here, Shmaryahu Levin, once wrote a sentence that makes the difference clear: “A person can eat potatoes for 40 years, but this doesn’t turn him into a botanist.” Netanyahu and Barak ate plenty of potatoes during their careers, there is no doubting that. The question is whether this upgraded their skills.
Failing the test
Netanyahu concluded from his experience that the prime minister’s job is to be kind to others. It appears that the last person Netanyahu said “no” to was Tzipi Livni (he also said no to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, but only because he said “yes” first to the dictates of the Histadrut labor union federation chief, to the lobby representing market stall owners, to the farmers’ lobby, to Shas, and to Yisrael Beiteinu’s threats.)
Netanyahu, who made a reputation for himself as a decisive man with a systematic worldview when he served as finance minister, lost both his decisiveness and his worldview in at the Prime Minister’s Office. All he wanted is to reach July 15th with an approved budget.
Barak was known as one who finds it difficult to make decisions in the previous government already, including decisions that are vital for our security. Last week he delivered a speech in the memorial ceremony marking the Lebanon War’s anniversary. In his speech he distinguished between the combat soldiers, whose bravery he praised, and the higher echelons, which he chose to disparage. Had Barak learned anything from experience, he would know that one who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones.
For months, Barak hesitated in deciding who to appoint as the army chief’s deputy. This decision pertains not only to the identity of the next army chief, but also to the identity of the chief of staff who will come after that. Eventually, he made an indecisive pronouncement. He was concerned about angering Army Chief Gabi Ashkenazi, who firmly objected to the appointment of one of the candidates. It is no wonder that army officers started to sarcastically refer to Barak, behind his back, as “the army chief’s aide.”
Not to mention his inability to decide what to do with the two senior officers at his office; whether to promote them, keep them in place, or send them off. The office is the first place where a politician’s leadership skills are revealed. For the time being, neither Netanyahu nor Barak were able to successfully pass this test.