Monday, August 28, 2006

Crise du Jour

Israel PM Ehud Olmert rejected calls for a state or government level commission to investigate the decision making and handling of Israel's war with Lebanon. Instead he has appointed a committee of three elderly, moderately distinguished figures to investigate the government's conduct. A similar committee will investigate the army's conduct. The second committee will probably be the one previously appointed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz. The committees will be unable to subpoena, immunize witnesses or make binding recommendations, i.e., fire anyone. Each will be under the authority of Olmert and Peretz, respectively. The Israel public and political figures on both the right and left in Israel are already screaming whitewash. The Hebrew translation of "cover your ass" has become so widespread that an abbreviation for it is already in the Israel press. The noises from the right are particularly ominous with religious nationalist leaders Effie Eitam and Zevulon Orlev talking about the army having "been stabbed in the back" and "held back from victory."

Support for the right is growing. If elections were held today, they would produce a right wing coalition with enough strength that could form a ruling coalition with the purchased additon of the religious Shas party. It would have Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister and most probably Eitam as Defense Minister. This prospect might be the only glue holding the current coalition together, since differences over policies are widening between Labor and other coalition members. Several Labor members have rejected Kadima's proposal to cut $500 million from the social, education and development budgets to help pay for the war. More Labor party members also reject Kadima's proposal of increasing the defense budget by $7 billion per year, over the next four years, to replace, add and develop weapons. Critics of the proposal say the yearly increase, about 5% of Israel's current GDP, would seriously dent economic growth in Israel. Also, the request is like the army saying "We didn't spend wisely what you already gave us; so give us more." Finally, the Labor minister of education has angered coalition member Shas with her refusal to give additional funding to that party's chain of private kindergartens. Olmert and her own party will probably overrule her, since Shas bolting the coalition would bring down the government.

In past periods of government failure, folllowing the 1973 and 1982 wars respectively, Israel eventually benefitted from the skilled leadership of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Rabin is gone, Peres is too old and nobody of their stature is on the scene. Most Israelis know this. Their current joke about the government is the army captain who tells his battle weary soldiers: "I have good news and bad news. The good news is each of you will be getting new underwear. The bad news is each of you will get it by exchanging yours with someone else's."

Meanwhile the government of Lebanon might also be at risk. Al-Jazeera reports that Michael Auon, a Christian parliamentarian and a contender for president of Lebanon in next year's election, has called for the resignation of the government. Auon, a political ally of Hezbollah, is perhaps expressing what Hezbollah would like to say, but cannot, since it is a member of the government. Hezbollah's popularity has defintely risen among the Shi'a and even among the Sunni in Lebanon, because of its leading role in rebuilidng the south and Beirut. Leader Hasan Nasrallah may therefore think the moment is ripe to use elections to gain the leading role in Lebanon.

The thought of a Lebanon led by Nasrallah facing an Israel led by Netanyahu is enough to make a UNIFIL peacekeeper duck.


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