18 August 2006 — There is almost nobody in the public arena right now who objects to the view that the last month of fighting against Hizbollah was interrupted and that sooner or later, whether next month or next year, another round will erupt. Nobody disputes that such another round is inevitable, and very few are suggesting any steps to take to prevent that war from breaking out by trying diplomacy with the Lebanese leadership or even engaging the Syrians.
The entire focus is on how the Lebanese Army, deploying some 15,000 troops in south Lebanon for the first time since the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the ‘new UNIFIL’ — which suddenly is only going to have only 200 new French troops and not the 2,000 that had been touted by a variety of sources, including the French, for the past month — will not dare confront Hizbollah; how Hizbollah will keep its arms and probably acquire more through Syria; and how Hizbollah is preparing for the next round.
And of course, the main issue on the Israeli agenda is the demand for ‘investigations’ into why Israel ‘lost’ the war, with accompanying demands for soul-searching by politicians, indeed everyone must return to the old values of yore, to meet the Iranian nuclear challenge. The latest political map shows Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert against IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, Halutz against everyone and Peretz and Olmert either standing together or hanging together. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who wanted a ceasefire the third day of the fighting is against Olmert, who was against her for wanting the ceasefire; and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz might have the most to lose from an investigation — he, after all, was chief of staff and then defense minister and though he was against the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, did nothing during the last six years to stop the Hizbollah buildup.
The underlying assumption of Israeli politics right now, is that the moment the Iranians get the bomb, they’ll load one on a long range missile and fire it at Israel. Since military censorship prevents open discussion of Israel’s own bombs, there’s no discussion of a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) policy, or to what extent the Iranians will have to worry about an Israeli or American bomb in retaliation. And few believe that Iranian politics is any more complex than ‘the axis of evil’ from Ahmadinejad to Nasrallah. Almost all discussion of international diplomatic efforts to constrain the Iranians is accompanied by profound skepticism that anything except military action will actually prevent the Iranians from getting their bomb.
One national level politician — Peretz — this week proposed trying to engage Syria in some form of way to pry it out of the grip of its Iranian masters. But he was immediately put down — including by party colleagues — with critics saying his call was just more proof of his incompetence as defense minister. True, former ambassador to Washington, Itamar Rabinovich, and former Military Intelligence chief Uri Saguy, who under Ehud Barak conducted the ultimately failed negotiations with Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez, both say that Israel should be trying secret — or not so secret — diplomacy with the Syrians. Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy meanwhile keeps reiterating his view that Israel should be trying to engage the Iranians.
Olmert has meanwhile finally admitted that his unilateral convergence/realignment plan for the West Bank has been shelved. He seemed to have won the elections on the basis of that plan to evacuate as many as 70,000 settlers from isolated settlements, but between the Palestinians home-made Qassam rockets flying from Gaza into the Negev and the Hizbollah’s Katyushas and longer range missiles, nobody nowadays in Israel is buying the idea of another unilateral withdrawal.
Although the media keeps saying the public has turned sharply Rightward, polls so far do not show any dramatic rise for the parties to the Right of the Likud, like Yisrael Beitenu or the National Union-National Religious Party. It is not at all clear if it is withdrawal or the unilateralism (meaning no attempt to reach an agreement with the other side) that is now so offensive to mainstream Israeli political thinking. The occupation remains unpopular, but Palestinian issues are barely mentioned in the press, and when mentioned, it is mostly to emphasize the failures of PA President Mahmoud Abbas — like today, after Abbas announced a new tahadiye had been reached among all the Palestinian factions, and within hours, Islamic Jihad and Hamas’ military wing denied it. Ismail Haniye and his Hamas government remain beyond the pale — but there is a consistent thump of reports about negotiations underway for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, in exchange for a few hundred Palestinian prisoners. But those reports are almost exclusively in the Arab press, and when noted by the Israelis, official reactions here are to deny it. After all, both the military operations in Gaza that began with Shalit’s kidnapping and which so far have killed more than 200 people, and the Lebanon war, which began with the capture of soldiers Goldwasser and Regev, were touted by Israel’s establishment as a way to get back the soldiers without any preconditions, and without any negotiations.
And late this afternoon, Justice Minister Haim Ramon annpunced he would resign on Sunday to face charges of sexual harassment in a criminal proceeding. If convicted he will be the second Israeli minister, after Yitzhak Mordechai, forced to resign on such grounds. Ramon’s latest defense (starting from it never happened) is that a ‘2-3 second’ kiss cannot be considered sexual harassment. President Moshe Katsav is also deep in a sexual scandal, with at least one woman detailing her complaint against Katsav to the police — when they questioned her about Katsav’s complaint to the attorney general that she might have tried to extort him. And other women are being questioned by police. Considering that the president’s function is ceremonial and based on him — or her — projecting dignity, Katsav probably will have to suspend himself. He only had about eight nor nine months left in office. But his chance to take over the Likud by the end of next year will also likely be suspended.
And there is still the state comptroller’s investigation into the purchase of the Olmert family home, bought for a reported half million dollars under the market value from a contractor Olmert is alleged to have helped out when he was the mayor of Jerusalem.
Based in Tel Aviv, Robert Rosenberg is a senior editor, translator and newswriter at the International Herald Tribune-Haaretz. This article was originally published at www.ariga.com.