Since the guns in the north fell into a momentary silence, there has been a marked tendency to think of smaller things than war. From life and death, the subject changed to the good life - specifically Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's pursuit of the good life.
In governmental matters, Israel's public discourse has moved from the security of the homeland to Olmert's home on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem. Inquiring minds want to know, did he, or did he not pay a below market rate for that apartment as part of a bribe from the building contractor?
It is important to know whether Israel's prime minister is involved in crooked real estate deals. But the problem with this discussion is that it ignores Israel's main difficulty with Olmert. The problem is that the war did not end this summer. And whether or not Olmert is on the take, the fact of the matter is that he doesn't know how to defend the country. Rather than recognize and correct the mistakes he made this summer, Olmert is ignoring and compounding them.
In Olmert's mind, the latest war in Lebanon was an unvarnished success - perhaps, as he hinted in holiday interviews, it was an even greater success than the Six Day War. Olmert stubbornly denies that that he defined the war's aims as achieving a decisive victory over Hizbullah forces, leading to their dismantlement; removing Hizbullah forces from the border; and producing the unconditional release of IDF hostages Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit. Moreover, Olmert insists that UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought about the current cease-fire, is a codification of Israel's greatest military and political victory.
Olmert has led the public to believe that Resolution 1701 established an international force that will dismantle Hizbullah and that recognizes Israel's right to take whatever actions it deems necessary to defend itself against Hizbullah. But 1701 does neither of these things.
The resolution contains no mechanism charged with dismantling Hizbullah or removing its forces from the border. It does not recognize Israel's right to defend itself. Indeed, UNIFIL commanders have stated outright that they have no intention of acting against Hizbullah and that they view IDF operations against Hizbullah as breaches of the resolution.
While Olmert mendaciously insists that 1701 is wonderful, IDF commanders are far from sanguine. This week they conditioned the completion of the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon on a change in UNIFIL's mode of operations.
Yet, even if the IDF retains its forces on the Lebanese side of the border, it is not at all clear what our forces would do there. On the face of it, there is an opportunity to do great things. They could gather precise intelligence about Hizbullah's fortifications, force levels and arsenals, and they could gather operative intelligence regarding the whereabouts of Regev and Goldwasser.
But it is unlikely that the residual forces in Lebanon today will be deployed for such tasks. The IDF receives its missions from the government. Olmert's statements this week made clear that, as he did during the war, Olmert today is denying the IDF permission to carry out missions that would advance Israel's national security.
During Wednesday's cabinet meeting, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz raised the issue of the border town of Ghajar. The residents of the town, which is split in two by the international border, want to build a fence on its northern edge. Since the IDF's retreat from Lebanon in May 2000, Hizbullah forces and affiliated criminal elements have utilized the breached border at Ghajar as an intelligence and operational base. So the residents' desire to unify the town under Israeli rule is a welcome initiative. But Olmert won't have any of it.
"No fence should be built around Ghajar village, not even as a local initiative. A fence will only be erected after a written document is signed," he said.
In his Rosh Hashana interviews, Olmert said that Iran is the greatest challenge that Israel must contend with today. And he is right. But he apparently has no interest in contending with Iran. Olmert told The Jerusalem Post that he trusts US President George W. Bush to handle Iran for us.
"First of all," he said, "I think President Bush has the courage. This is something that is very important. There is no one in the world today who has greater courage and determination, and a sense of mission about these issues, than President Bush, and I admire his determination and sense of mission."
OLMERT IS right about Bush. He is mission-driven and courageous. But he is not all-powerful. In another month and a half, there will be elections to the US Congress and there is a distinct possibility that the Democratic Party - whose leaders have shown no willingness to pay a price to remove the threat of an Iranian nuclear arsenal - will take control of the Congress.
Bush's political challenges make taking concerted steps against Iran difficult. Moreover, it is a fact that Bush doesn't exert full control over his own administration. In just one example, the State Department and the CIA have been undermining his Middle East policies for the past five years.
In light of this, it is unforgivable gross negligence for the prime minister of Israel - whose country Iran has threatened with annihilation - to abdicate responsibility for thwarting Teheran's nuclear weapons program to a foreign leader.
Israel's nuclear concerns are not limited to Iran. There is also Egypt, which just announced its intention to build nuclear reactors to generate electricity. And as with Iran, Olmert's reaction to the news from Egypt has been scandalous. Right after the news broke, Olmert announced that Israel has no problem with Egypt's plans.
Let us for a moment assume that he is right and that Egypt really has no intention today of using the planned reactors for military purposes. Who can guarantee that this will remain the case after Egypt's aging dictator Hosni Mubarak dies? With the ascendance of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political force in Egypt, next to no one assumes that there will be a smooth transition of power to Mubarak's son Gamal, or to any of his other potential heirs.
Moreover, Bush is making a valiant effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear technology in the Middle East. By rushing to welcome Egypt's initiative, Olmert swept the rug out from under any potential American move to prevent Egypt from taking what could be its first open step toward acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities. How can Washington now express opposition to Mubarak's move - or to the similar initiative being taken by Turkey's Islamist government - when Israel has announced that it supports Egypt's decision?
Finally, Israel's relations with Egypt are one long session of give and take. With his response to Egypt's announcement, Olmert gave up a valuable bargaining chip for free. For the past several years, Egypt has been leading an international campaign against Israel's nuclear capabilities. Just this week Canada torpedoed an Egyptian initiative at the International Atomic Energy Agency to have Israel's nuclear program declared an international threat that must be removed. Olmert could have conditioned his acceptance of Egypt's nuclear program on a cessation of Egypt's longstanding offensive against Israel's nuclear program. But Olmert wasn't interested.
And of course, the issue of whether or not Egypt wishes to pursue nuclear weapons is not Israel's most pressing concern regarding Cairo's behavior. There is the more urgent matter of Egypt's refusal to take concerted action to stem the flow of weapons and terror personnel from the Sinai peninsula into Gaza. As Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin reported to the cabinet Wednesday, since August 2005, some 19 tons of TNT have been brought into Gaza from Egypt. Four tons of TNT made their way to Gaza through the Sinai in the last two months alone.
Olmert could have conditioned Israel's acceptance of Egypt's construction of nuclear reactors on effective Egyptian action against the massive weapons smuggling into Gaza. But Olmert doesn't believe it is his job to make such demands. Responding to Diskin's report, Olmert announced that he plans to deal with the weapons smuggling by raising the issue in his next meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Olmert explained that he thinks the best way to stem the hemorrhage of advanced weaponry into Gaza is to update the agreement relating to the Gaza-Egypt border. Olmert didn't mention which agreement he was referring to. Perhaps he meant the Fatah-Hamas agreement relating to the sharing of smuggling resources? Or maybe he means Israel's agreement with the World Bank and the State Department. The fact is that there is no agreement, and given the tendencies of the Egyptians and Palestinians, it is apparent that any future agreement would be unenforceable.
Olmert's positions on Security Council Resolution 1701, Iran and Egypt reveal a disturbing pattern. It is apparent that Olmert is willingly abdicating responsibility for Israel's national security to a foreign power. And while this foreign power, the US, is a friendly one, Israel's security is not America's responsibility, nor is it, nor should it be, America's primary concern. Israel's national security is Israel's responsibility and the primary concern of the Israeli government.
So regardless of whether he is honest or crooked, it is abundantly clear that Olmert is incompetent to lead the country. But what can be done to oust him from power?
MANY VOICES in the local media and intellectual classes have argued that Israel has no good leaders who can replace Olmert and his associates. Not surprisingly, among those arguing that all politicians are equally bad are people who enthusiastically supported Kadima in the last elections.
This claim is, of course, nonsense. We have a fine alternative to Olmert's incompetent government.
Israel's alternative leadership - Binyamin Netanyahu, Moshe Ya'alon, Shaul Mofaz, Yuval Steinitz, Natan Sharansky, Uzi Landau and others - is clear. These politicians are capable of dealing with the many challenges that have only multiplied as a result of the Olmert government's incompetence.
There is much talk about power struggles, personal rivalries and jealousies among the members of Israel's alternative leadership. These rivalries must end immediately. This is not a popularity contest. This is a matter of national survival. These men must bury the hatchets that divide them, rally around Netanyahu's leadership, bring down the government in an no-confidence vote and lead this country to victory and safety. One needs only to look at the world according to Olmert to see what hangs in the balance.
Originally published in Th Jerusalem Post.