Sept. 1, 2006
Where is Olmert now?
Amnesty International has accused Israel of war crimes. So what
else is new? Amnesty and many other organizations and institutions
allege war crimes every time an Israeli tank starts its engine.
Ignoring egregious affronts to humanity elsewhere, the international
community has shown an irrational relish to find atrocities in Israel's
behavior during times of crisis.
The destruction of civilian life and infrastructure in Lebanon is
a tragedy, but it is a consequence of war and this particular war,
last time we checked, was provoked by Hezbollah, which operated
freely in Lebanon. Tragedy, yes, war crime, doubtful.
More serious criticism comes from Israelis themselves.
It is a consequence of Israel's difficult history that almost every
citizen serves time in the military. So, unlike Canadians, almost
every Israeli has an intimate understanding of military policies
and their implications.
Criticism is informed, and varied. Some soldiers complain that military
strategists did not allow the army to fulfil its mandate in Lebanon.
Among those refusing to serve, some are from the political left,
a traditional source of criticism toward the military, but some,
reportedly, are from the other end of the spectrum settlers
and their supporters who hold no confidence in an armed force that
evacuated the Gaza Strip last year. And for what?
Perhaps more serious than the small number of soldiers who refused
to serve is the much larger number of soldiers who served
and returned to condemn the action and its execution.
Criticism from military voters a bloc of electors unfathomable
in peaceful Canada brought down Golda Meir (in 1973) and
Ariel Sharon (in 1982, from his position as defence minister). For
a range of reasons, most of them obvious, military success in Israel
often precedes political success, with failure bringing equal, opposite
reactions. In a country where politics is a blood sport, total failure
on the battlefield generally means close to immediate failure for
the political leadership.
The just-finished war was not a failure, which is probably why Ehud
Olmert is still prime minister. But the war was not what most Israelis
consider a rousing success, either, although the end of the fighting
has allowed northern Israelis to return to their homes and ensured
that an international force will restrain the jihadists who threaten
them. This is all Israel was after to begin with, though once a
state of war existed, public opinion anticipated a decisive, possibly
terminal, assault on Hezbollah. From this perspective, the measure
of success seems unreached.
Criticism by wilfully blind "do-gooders" like Amnesty
International will probably help cement the view in Israel that
the world is against the Jewish state. The phenomenon of global
condemnation of Israel has tended to paper over internal divisions
in the past and may afford Olmert some time. If he appears on the
ropes internationally, he may be given some benefit of the doubt
But Olmert's future probably depends on the galvanizing consensus
over whether the war had any upside at all. If an international
force keeps Hezbollah at bay and manages to create some sort of
stability in Lebanon, public opinion may conclude that war was worth
it for a few years of tense status quo. If Hezbollah is not controlled
by the peacekeepers, it will all seem for nought. And so would Olmert's
If Olmert holds on until an inquiry reports back on the war, it
is probably safe to say his position will depend wholly on the conclusion
of the report. Even if the report is positive or, more likely, neutral,
a huge majority of Israelis already think Olmert should resign.
Survival is likely to be short-term. What happens next will be up
to the vagaries of Israeli politics and that, we know, is almost