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August 17, 2006
Israel's parliamentary follies
Israel's Defense Minister Amir Peretz is now claiming in Haaretz that he was ignorant of the threat that Hezb'allah missiles posed to Israel. Of course, even a casual reader of media anywhere in the world, let alone a front—line state targeted for destruction, has long been aware that Hezb'allah was being armed with thousands of missiles by Iran and its ally, the Assad regime of Syria.
It staggers belief that Amir Peretz was not only unfamiliar with the threat posed by this arsenal but that he would even admit it to his fellow citizens, thereby disclosing to Israel's enemies that its leadership is even weaker than they assume.
However, this disclosure reveals a vulnerability in the nature of Israeli politics: the fact that leadership choices are often driven by political tactics. The nature of a parliamentary system is that it is riven with fractious political parties who often must be compromised with in order to garner support in the Knesset.
Political horse—trading is a dynamic that often leaves Israel exposed to financial expenditures that are unwise from a fiscal viewpoint (concessions made to small religious parties or to the large Labor Party) or leadership posts given to men unqualified to hold the position. This was made clear in the rise of the Kadima Party, composed of defectors from the Likud and Labor Party and hailed as a form of unity government that would strengthen Israel.
Instead, the reverse seems to be true. Amir Peretz had served as a labor union boss and the head of the Labor Party in Israel. To garner the support of his party the Cabinet Post of Defense Minister was bestowed upon him, despite a complete lack of a military background. This in a state routinely the victim of terrorism, a state that lives among foes dedicated to its destruction.
One hopes that Israelis view the tragedy of the last month as a lesson to be learned regarding the danger of compromising leadership for political reasons. When political tactics pose strategic risks to a state, they must be rejected. Apparently, the Israelis have awakened to this principle: Peretz's approval rating has plummeted to 28% and I suspect will be heading lower in the days to come.
Peretz has convened a committee to investigate his and the IDF's conduct of the war in Lebanon. He appointed former Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin—Shahak to head the group. This is clearly a cover—up in the making. Shahak himself was on Peretz's team of external advisors during the war, and while he will recuse himself from investigating Peretz's conduct, his views will clearly influence the findings.
Members of the Knesset have roundly objected to the idea that the Defense Minister should appoint his own "judges". As Gideon Sa'ar told Army Radio,
Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar told Army Radio.
The obviousness of this whitewashing—in—the—making reveals either Peretz's lack of savvy or his contempt for the Israeli people.
Peretz and Ehud Olmert are politicians first and foremost. Olmert does not have a military background which makes him an anomaly in the history of Israeli Prime Ministers. Peretz was mayor of Sderot. Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem. Both are used to approaching decision—making as an exercise in coalition—building and, as we know, politicians are apt to push tough and potentially damaging decisions into the future.
Both leaders may approach dealing with Arabs from the mindset of dealing with Israeli Arabs. Of course, Israeli Arabs have not been radicalized by years of propaganda, unlike Arabs outside the borders of Israel. Might this relatively relaxed state of affairs somehow have lulled them into thinking there was a political solution with Hezollah to an issue that clearly has only a military solution? Might Peretz's early involvement in Peace Now and Olmert's family (his wife is a memebr of the left—wing Meretz Party, his daughter campaigns for Palestinians) changed their perception of the threat Israel faces? Do these leaders follow the wrong paradigm at a time of national peril?
Ed Lasky 8 17 06