September 2, 2006

The Slow Motion Collapse Has Begun

Hatched by Dafydd

Everyone on all sides in Israel now agrees that if new elections are held anytime soon -- as opposed to 2010, the next scheduled date -- Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party will lose big, along with their coalition partner Labor; the big winners will be Likud and other conservative parties. Thus, Olmert will do anything to delay new elections.

Alas for him, new elections can be triggered anytime the Knesset reports a vote of "no confidence" in the current government. As we all learned from Captain Ed's reporting on the equally slow-motion collapse of Canada's Liberal Party and its erstwhile leader, Paul Martin, there are several kinds of bills whose rejection would be considered a vote of no confidence, including the budget. I assume (without really knowing) that the same is true for Israel's Knesset: which means that Olmert must avoid any and all bills that could be considered votes on confidence in the government.

Which means that he can only stay in power if nothing at all happens, nothing important is proposed, and Israel simply drifts along like a log floating in a stream. Which would be fine... except that there are excited Arabs shooting at the log.

In particular, Olmert must avoid at all costs any independent inquiry into Israel's conduct during the recent Lebanon war... lest a serious condemnation lead to the very kind of vote he's desperate to avoid.

That means he can only allow an inquiry into his conduct that he, himself controls -- an utterly corrupt kangaroo court that will rubberstamp any conclusion that comes from Ehud Olmert's office. He has steadfastly refused to allow any independent inquiry for solid political reasons (though it seriously undercuts Israel itself not to let everyone know what went wrong).

Enter Amir Peretz, the minister of defense.

Peretz is the head of Labor; and as Kadima's partner in the current government, Peretz is in the same leaky rowboat with Olmert. However, Peretz has rival Labor leaders nipping at his heels... and were he to be replaced as head of Labor, which would take only an internal vote, he would become the forgotten man of Israel.

Those rivals, as well as the Labor chisel and file, are demanding an independent investigation... probably (I cynically aver) more to embarass and diminish Peretz than because they really want to know what actually happened. But the amazing result is that now, Peretz himself has joined the chorus demanding an independent inquiry:

Bowing to rebels in his own Labor Party, Defense Minister Amir Peretz of Israel called today for a full independent inquiry into the recent war in Lebanon, changing his previous position and putting him publicly at odds with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Olmert has so far prevented any independent inquiry; but the excuses are wearing thin, as more and more Israelis demand an investigation that is not controlled by the very person being investigated. Peretz is in a far weaker position, as the junior partner of a minority government... and he was unable to get away with the Olmert option:

Mr. Peretz, elected head of the Labor Party not long before the March 28 elections, was considered an unlikely defense minister, and his own performance during the war has been widely criticized, with many calling for his resignation. He himself appointed a panel, headed by an aide and former general, to look into the military’s performance, and was widely criticized again for trying to control the inquiry.

Mr. Peretz then halted the work of his own commission and appeared to back Mr. Olmert. With 19 seats in the 120-seat Parliament, Labor is a junior partner in the government with Kadima, which as 29 seats. But senior members of Labor, some of whom opposed Mr. Peretz, a former trade-union leader, have seen a chance to tame him or even pull him down. They have pressed him to support a full state inquiry, which he has now done.

The political dynamics of this are fascinatingly complex:

  • If there is an independent inquiry, it will likely find that both Olmert and Peretz behaved incompetently and insouciantly; this would probably crack the government wide open, forcing new elections that both Kadima and Labor would lose;
  • But if Peretz opposes an independent commission to investigate the war, he will be branded cowardly and corrupt (charges of corruption are endemic in Israel and often successful -- because too often accurate); he would likely lose his position as head of Labor even if the Olmert government managed to hang on;
  • So the only hope for Peretz is to call for an independent inquiry, but hope to hell that Olmert is able to stop it; that way, Peretz can shrug his shoulders and say, "Oh well, I tried;"
  • But this depends upon Olmert being able to hold the line against an independent commission... which is made vastly harder by his own defense minister calling for exactly the sort of inquiry that Olmert is blocking;
  • So in essence, Peretz must pray that he is so weak and powerless that Olmert is easily able to overcome Peretz's apostasy; but if this is true, then that makes it ever so much easier for Peretz's political rivals within Labor to oust him -- as a weak, ineffectual leader who cannot even persuade his own coalition partner to launch an independent investigation of their conduct during the war!

Thus, every way Amir Peretz turns, he's up to his yarmulke in alligators. But that's not his only problem; Olmert, unwilling to be Peretz's whipping boy, is fighting back:

Mr. Olmert, needless to say, was reported by Israeli media to be less than happy with Mr. Peretz’s latest change of position. Olmert aides, without being named, were quoted as saying that Mr. Peretz had caved in to political pressure and was again showing his inexperience.

Olmert is also trying to woo Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu ("Our Home Israel") party. Yisrael Beiteinu got 11 seats in the Knesset in the March 2006 elections... so the threat is obvious to Labor (which got 19 seats): if Yisrael Beiteinu were to join the coalition, and if a smaller party were also to join (such as the ultra-orthodox Torah Judaism Party, 6 seats, or Meretz, 5 seats, or Balad or Hadash, 3 seats each -- it's not hard to construct a 61+ seat majority without the Labor Party.

Kadima's current coalition comprises:

Kadima coalition
Political Party Seats in Knesset
Kadima 29
Labor 19
Shas 12
Pensioners 7
Total seats 67
(61 is a majority)

But the other parties that got seats in the Knesset, and who theoretically could replace Labor, are:

Alternative partners to Labor
Political Party Seats in Knesset
Likud 12
Yisrael Beytenu 11
National Union
National Religious Party
United Torah Judaism 6
Meretz-Yachad 5
United Arab List 4
Hadash 3
Balad 3
Total seats 53
(13+ needed to replace Labor)

However, once the shaky Kadima coalition breaks apart, there is no guarantee that Olmert will be able to hold them together long enough to put a new coalition in place; parties might decide to wait for new elections, thinking that with Kadima and Labor diminished, some of the smaller parties might pick up seats and become more important. Thus, Olmert's implicit theat to dump Labor and replace it with some more complicated coalition of other parties is, while not exactly empty, at least problematical.

So any way you slice the kosher bologna, there are interesting times ahead for Israel. But Big Lizards sticks by its prediction that the Olmert government cannot stand long: as Lincoln (Abraham, not Chafee) said, "you can't fool all the people all the time." Or even a majority of them.

Olmert's government will fall because it has proven to be dangerously incompetent in warfare... and war is the natural state of the state of Israel.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 2, 2006, at the time of 4:39 AM

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The following hissed in response by: Norman Rogers

Chill, LizardMan!

Look, none of us know what was going on behind the scenes in the Israeli cabinet and between Rice and Olmert. And I suspect that the IDF found the going quite a bit tougher than they expected -- and their progress less than they advertised to their civilian bosses. Indeed, most of the lessons learned will apply to the IDF (pity the Lebanese if they try for round 2).

We just don't know how much of the cockups were due to the IDF's inablity to perform up to expectations or to what seems like indecision in Olmert's government.

I am unwilling to write off Olmert until we know more (and we may never learn more). Sharon liked this guy -- and that goes a long way with me, but that's no predictor of how an aide-de-camp will perform when he's promoted.

Olmert faced a lot of bad choices. The IDF didn't get the job done until overwhelming force was brought to bear. The IDF was surprised by the effects of their inattention to training and their poor preperation for this war -- and the world was surprised as well. And Rice was holding the throttle control.

And it's unclear how much more benefit to Israel would have been gained by further bashing the Hezbillies. Had the IDF gone "Okinawa" on Hezbollah up to the Litani, they would have expended billions of shekels and hundreds of soldiers. And they still wouldn't have wiped them out.

I read Olmert as cleverer and more decisive than is now visible to us. I'm willing to wait awhile before I write him off.

The above hissed in response by: Norman Rogers [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 2, 2006 6:25 AM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

In particular, Olmert must avoid at all costs any independent inquiry into Israel's conduct during the recent Lebanon war... lest a serious condemnation lead to the very kind of vote he's desperate to avoid.

I suppose that's true, but the real damage was done by the very ill-advised and abominably structured cease-fire agreement.

We now know how devastating the Israeli war effort was to Hezbollah, and how eager they were to end the conflict. Nasrallah himself has said the war was a major mistake and a military defeat for his faction.

But now he has the arabists in the UN running all over the place, and condemning Israel in every new edition of the world's newspapers, so Hezbollah very definitely "wins the peace", if you can call this netherworld of non-conflict any sort of "peace".

Annan is leading the news every night propagandizing for Nasrallah, and engaged in just the sort of silly "diplomacy" the lefties love-- talking endlessly to the regions tyrants and making no headway at all towards real peace.

The State Department has a lot to answer for, and here is just one more item on a long list.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 2, 2006 9:59 AM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

Excerpted and linked at Old War Dogs >> Bill's Bites.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 2, 2006 12:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: DaSarge

It seems to me that Israel is paying the price for its proportional representation system. This endless political wrangling in the face of a crisis is not good.

Like many, I am worried that the IDF has lost its edge. That said, Olmert has to be some kind of stupid if he actually believed he could make war with airpower alone.

The above hissed in response by: DaSarge [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 2, 2006 6:17 PM

The following hissed in response by: DanDaMan

I'm glad that most people here seem to be in Israel's corner. That said, the best way to help Israel's cause right now is to expose the corruption and the resulting negligence of the Israeli political oligarchy to an American audience. It's tough love and inside baseball, but that internal decay combined with the Arab/Muslim external threat poses an immediate danger to Israel's well-being.

The above hissed in response by: DanDaMan [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 3, 2006 5:41 AM

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