Thursday, 3 May 2007

Olmert's political losses

Ehud Olmert is a man with a problem — well, several problems in fact. He is the prime minister of a nuclear state, a world player in fact, with many security troubles and political conundrums. His country gets more attention than most; and the majority of his neighbors resent the country he governs. Olmert is the prime minister of Israel. He faces many problems: investigations into the ethics of his administration; the loss of political support within his new centrist party as well as in the wider population; frequent acts of terror from both inside and outside Israel's borders — among other issues. His personal goals — namely the much needed Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank — are in shambles and his nations external security is looking as bleak as ever. America seems to be the only steadfast ally, and even it is hinting at doubt in Israel's handling of itself and Olmert's handling of Israel. Every foreign policy move Olmert makes might find itself under international scrutiny.

So why is this flaring up all of the sudden? A panel released its findings of last summer's torrential Israeli-Lebanese war (i.e. the 2006 Lebanon War), which was mainly a conflict between Hezbollah and Israel's defense forces. (From the start the battle was seen as poorly executed, and this is a result of a major inquiry.) Lebanon is still unstable following the skirmish of summer 2006. Israel took the militant group's bait, and now Israel is seen as even more of an aggressor against innocents — in the Arab Muslim world as well as abroad.

An Israeli government commission excoriated Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday for "severe failures" in last summer's war against the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, setting off a furious debate on whether he should remain in office.

The commission accused him of having decided hastily to go to war, neglecting to ask for a detailed military plan, refusing to consult outside the army and setting "over-ambitious and unobtainable goals."

Israel's political troubles are vast and wide. In its parliament, the Knesset, parties must gain power often by forming coalitions, many times with more extreme factions of the Israeli politik. Israelis also doubt how pulling out of Palestinian territories will help — they think the attacks will continue nonetheless just as some Palestinians fail to rationalize how a stop in the fighting will help them too.

Israel's policy towards Palestine is a prime example of the fire paradox at work: in fighting terrorism, Israel has created more. For example, Hezbollah's support has arguably grown following last year's conflict with Israel, which killed many civilians, left even more scared, and destroyed all too much. Hezbollah, fueled by funds from Iran, helped rebuild and aided civilians. However, some view Hezbollah's moves as haphazard and blame it for sparking the conflict with Israel. That launched a perpetual drive of terrorism and recruiters take advantage of the poor, hopeless, yet angered, Palestinians. And its a two-way street. There are also plenty of militant extremists within Israel, extra-Zionists, so to speak, who think the world is theirs for the taking, and Israel should not fail to resort to heavy military means when attacked.

How to fight the terror? Sending tanks into a neighborhood of Lebanon (home to Hezbollah) or Palestine (home to Hamas) that is already angry because its power and water supplies are cut off, and the bridge is blown up, does not help. There is also the issue of the politics within Israel's neighboring states. Would Israel rather moderate Islamic rule in its Arab neighbors, or dictatorships which are more of a hotbed for terror?

If Israel really wanted to take back its captured soldiers in Southern Lebanon and Palestine last summer, black ops or special forces could have gotten the job done much better. Now there are ever more terrorists, terrorist supporters, and potential terrorists wanting to get their revenge on the state who they feel harmed them and their people. Both the Israelis and their neighbors are also scared, and there are plenty of examples of how people act amazingly irrational when scared.

If Olmert is forced out or his political condition worsens, there are multiple fears about the potential repercussions:
  • A more conservative government might take power, and institute policies only making the Palestinian issue worse and not act in the true national interest;
  • Groups like Hezbollah will see it as a victory and will launch future, more powerful attacks;
  • Israel's domestic political situation will be very bad, to say the least;
  • Olmert, if still in office, will have to make concessions to conservative Israelis or political groups in order to stay in office, thus worsening the situation.

    The execution of the war in Lebanon was botched from the start. Who is to blame? Should Olmert be forced out because of his government’s poor decision making, which costed and affected hundreds of thousands of Lebanese lives, not to mention many Israelis, and increased the tension between his country and its Middle Eastern neighbors, and the international community. The strategy also proved to be counter-intuitive and might yet breed more terrorism. Israelis should take note of these major mistakes, and in the future strive for not repeating them.

    For now it looks like Olmert's job is secure. But with new protests, it's anyone's guess. One outcome could be a (more) hawkish, right-wing party — more conservative than Likud — winning over support from Olmert's ruling centrist Kadima party.

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