Remembering Olmert's true record
Last week's reports that during Operation Cast Lead Israel bombed truck convoys in Sudan transporting medium-ranged Fajr-3 missiles to Gaza from Iran couldn't have come at a better time for outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Even as defense officials were following standard practice of neither confirming nor denying the reports, Olmert was bragging like a teenage boy.
In an address at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya last Thursday Olmert crowed, "We are operating in every area in which terrorist infrastructures can be struck. We are operating in locations near and far and attack in a way that strengthens and increases deterrence. It is true in the north and in the south. There is no point in elaborating. Everyone can use their imagination. Whoever needs to know, knows."
Unfortunately, Olmert's bravado doesn't stand up to even the flimsiest scrutiny. What about the weapons smugglers along the Philadelphi corridor? More than Sudan, Philadelphi - Gaza's international border with Egypt - is the choke point of weapons transfers from Iran to Gaza. And along that border, during his three years and two months in office, Olmert has failed to even temporarily cut off the flow of Iranian arms entering Gaza. Throughout his tenure as prime minister, Israel never once launched a sustained operation aimed at blocking Hamas, Fatah and their sister organizations in Gaza from transporting ever more lethal weapons systems into the area through its border with Egypt.
THIS WEEK EHUD OLMERT will finally leave office. Ironically, the cause for his early departure from power - the multiple criminal probes being conducted against him - has nothing to do with his actual performance as prime minister. That is, the failures that brought him down were not his failures in office, but his private failings which predated his rise to power.
Israel's political memory is notoriously short. In the space of a few short years, politicians' past failures in office are frequently forgotten by their parties and the public. Consequently, Olmert can easily assume that if he is able to fend off the multiple felony indictments awaiting him on his return to private life, he many one day soon return to lead us.
It is due first and foremost to the prospect of Olmert one day returning to politics that it is critical to consider his actual record of service as prime minister. Only by understanding what he has done over the past three years and two months can we ensure that he will be properly remembered for what he is: the worst prime minister Israel has experienced to date. Only by recognizing his tenure in office as an unmitigated disaster for the country will we be able to avert the danger that he may one day return to office.
Olmert's failure to stop weapons smuggling into Gaza at the Philadelphi corridor and his attempt to obfuscate this failure by exaggerating the strategic significance of the reported IAF strikes in Sudan are his stock in trade. Olmert, as the only prime minister to have led the country in two wars in one term of office, does not hesitate to use force to project an image of fearless manliness to the public. And as the only prime minister to have led Israel to defeat in war - and indeed, in his case, in two wars - Olmert is the only prime minister to have wielded the sword with utter strategic incompetence.
OLMERT ENTERED office in January 2006 pledged to unilaterally surrender Judea, Samaria and large areas of Jerusalem to the Fatah terrorist organization. Olmert was both politically and ideologically committed to the Left's belief that wars are unwinnable and consequently enemies need to be appeased rather than defeated.
In light of his political predisposition, both Lebanese and Palestinian aggression presented Olmert with a difficult political challenge. In both Lebanon and Gaza, Israel had previously adopted his strategy of preemptive appeasement by unilaterally surrendering territory to its enemies. Hizbullah's and Fatah/Hamas's post-surrender aggression exposed Olmert's political platform as both wrongheaded and dangerous.
Beyond the political embarrassment Olmert suffered in the wake of both Hizbullah's 2006 aggression and Gaza's post-withdrawal transformation into an Iranian-controlled jihadist hub, he had to contend with the public outcry against their unprovoked and unrelenting attacks. In both July 2006 and in December 2008, the public demanded that Olmert defend the country by using force to defeat our enemies. Yet even in the face of the public outcry, Olmert remained ideologically committed to the belief that war is inherently futile.
Olmert's ideologically driven political and strategic mind-sets caused him to prosecute both wars as little more than mindless, violent engagements with enemy forces. In Lebanon, IDF units were sent into tactical battles that lacked any operational objectives.
The strategic aims that Olmert announced at various stages of the war in Lebanon - first to defeat Hizbullah and, later on, to "send Hizbullah a message" - were strategically illogical since they lacked any connection to the manner in which IDF forces were deployed. Absent an order to conquer southern Lebanon and defeat Hizbullah as a fighting force, the IDF could not hope to defeat Hizbullah.
Given Hizbullah's commitment to Israel's destruction and its complete subservience to Iran, there is no way for Israel to deter the group. As a result, the only "message" Israel conveyed was one of military incompetence and ideological weakness.
Although the public responded to Olmert's performance in outrage, for Olmert the outcome of the war in Lebanon was the best of all possible worlds. By failing to accomplish any strategic objectives through fighting, Olmert was able to continue to argue for preemptive appeasement in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem as well as on the Golan Heights.
Olmert brushed aside the public's demand for his resignation by emptily, arrogantly and repeatedly pledging to correct his own mistakes. But of course, given his political and ideological blinders, he was incapable and unwilling to do so.
The IDF's improved tactical performance in Gaza two years later showed that to the extent it was able, it did learn from its mistakes in Lebanon. In contrast, Olmert's strategic leadership of Operation Cast Lead demonstrated that he remained committed to the same wrongheaded and dangerous strategic outlook with which he had led the country to ignominious defeat in Lebanon.
DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITIES UNDER Olmert were motivated by the same ideological dictates as its military engagements. Consequently, their results were equally disastrous.
By any objective measure, Israel's greatest diplomatic challenge for the past three years and two months has been to build an international consensus around the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And yet, contending with Iran was nowhere near the top of our diplomatic agenda under Olmert. Indeed, Olmert and his deputy and successor as leader of the Kadima party outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni never developed any coherent position on Iran at all.
Instead of concentrating diplomatic efforts on convincing the nations of the world to prevent Iran from acquiring the means to destroy the Jewish state and to dominate the region and the oil economy, Olmert concentrated his diplomatic efforts on strengthening the Fatah terrorist organization against the Hamas terrorist organization.
This goal - which is the central component of Olmert's appeasement-based mind-set - required him to lead his colleagues and subordinates in ignoring certain basic facts about Fatah. Israel needed to ignore the fact that Fatah rejects its right to exist and openly calls for its destruction. Israel needed to ignore Fatah's continued direct involvement in terror attacks against it and its complicity with and support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad attacks. Israel had to ignore Fatah's cozy ties with Hizbullah, Syria and Iran and the leadership role Fatah occupies in the international diplomatic offensive and political war against the Jewish state.
Due to Olmert's willingness to turn a blind eye to Fatah's belligerence, the effect of his diplomatic efforts has been the legitimization not only of Fatah but of all of Fatah's allies and supporters. That is, the effect has been to legitimize all of our enemies and encourage them to maintain and expand their campaigns on every front.
In the case of Fatah for instance, by refusing for three years and two months to confront it on its involvement in terror, Olmert paved the way for its current campaign to prosecute IDF soldiers as war criminals in international tribunals. Moreover, due to Olmert's refusal to acknowledge Fatah's lead role in terrorism, he paved the way for the current state of affairs where Fatah forces are now being trained and armed by the US military.
BY DESTROYING the IDF's international reputation as a world-class fighting force by twice committing it to war and twice refusing to allow it to fight to victory, and by transforming the Foreign Ministry into a mouthpiece for Fatah and the PLO while ordering it to ignore Iran, Olmert wrecked Israel's reputation as a steady and reliable strategic ally in Washington. Moreover, he weakened its supporters both in the US capital and throughout the world by effectively accepting the lie that Israel itself is responsible for the radicalization of the Arab and Islamic worlds and that only by cutting it down to size will the West be able to moderate the behavior of jihadists from Teheran to Karachi to Baghdad to London.
Olmert's massive incompetence has had another victim: the country's social fabric. Not only has his studied inability to defend the country attenuated many Israelis' faith in the state's ability to defend them, Olmert's refusal to countenance the public's demand that he resign after the war in Lebanon and his insistent postwar attempts to give away Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to Fatah while wrecking the strategic alliance with the US have sown confusion and discord. This discord has led to a deepening of social and political fissures at a time when - due to the rising Iranian threat which he studiously ignored, and the steady delegitimization of Israel's right to exist that he engendered - we need to be united as never before.
To sum up then, Olmert's ideological and political commitment to appeasement, his personal arrogance and his contempt for his countrymen have made his tenure an unrelenting and unmitigated disaster for the country. Today, rather than acknowledge his failure, Olmert is using the disclosure of IAF attacks in Sudan as yet a new way to obfuscate the fact that for three years and two months he has failed to adequately protect the state.
It is in light of this that it is imperative that the public understand his record. For in the final analysis, it is not simply our ability to ensure that Olmert never returns to lead us that stands in the balance. Our wherewithal to survive with the strategic wreckage he has laid before us depends on our capacity to understand and remember the dimensions of Olmert's incompetence.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.