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Monday, April 30, 2007

StratFor on Winograd: With a grain of salt

This is the Stratfor assessment of the Winograd report. As Stratfor notoriously invented a mythical Nahal division, it is not certain what their level of understanding regarding Israel really is.

It is clear that everyone is unhappy with Mr. Olmert. For that we do not need strategic insight. But Stratfor's reporting here is not too careful:

"The report's release is topping off a series of complaints against Olmert's government, including charges of rape, wire-tapping, indecent conduct, theft, conspiracy, money laundering and bribery against a number of senior officials, including the president"

Olmert screwed us all, but nobody claims he raped anyone. That allegation was made against Moshe Katsav. Perhaps Stratfor is unaware that the Israeli President is not part of the government, and is elected independently, and has been in power since before the Olmert government took office. Mr Katsav's sexual escapades are not related to the Olmert government in any way. The rest of the charges are relevant however, and many of them might stick to Olmert himself. They are reflective of society, and they are "a problem." They are not "the problem."

Frankly, nobody cared if Sharon was a crook, as long as he won wars. The problem is that everyone understands that the malaise of the IDF is not the fault of Olmert or Peretz, but rather the work of many who came before them, and that Bibi Nethanyahu, whom Stratfor favors for obscure reasons, was responsible for cutting the military budget at critical times. Nobody escapes tarring with the brush of the Lebanon war.

Olmert may be a convenient sacrificial goat, but throwing him down Gey ben Hinnom will not lift the curse. Not even if we also throw Peretz down there, with his binoculars!

There is no advantage to putting Olmert's head on the block as a substitute for making the necessary changes. We know what Bibi is already, and clearly he is not suited to lead the country either. We are offered a choice between corruption and incompetence and keeping the Americans happy versus corruption and incompetence and making the Americans upset with us. That will not solve anything.

Ami Isseroff

The Winograd Report and Olmert's Fate
STRATFOR morning intelligence brief          04.30.2007

The Winograd Committee, a government-appointed body led by retired Judge Eliyahu Winograd, will release an interim report the afternoon of April 30 outlining the Israeli government's failures in the 2006 summer war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The committee was given the task of determining what conditions led to the outbreak of violence since Israel's May 2000 pullout from southern Lebanon, what objectives were laid out by the Israeli Cabinet when the call was made for a ground offensive and what errors the government and military committed in the 34 days of fighting. The damning report is expected to conclude that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert essentially treated the Second Lebanon War as a rush job by failing to question the war plans drawn up by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and by launching into a full-scale battle without actually articulating the objectives of the war.

Needless to say, Olmert is facing some rough days ahead as he answers for his government's ineptitude during the war. The report's release is topping off a series of complaints against Olmert's government, including charges of rape, wire-tapping, indecent conduct, theft, conspiracy, money laundering and bribery against a number of senior officials, including the president, finance minister, committee chairs of foreign affairs and defense, the former justice minister and Olmert himself. With his public approval rating hovering somewhere between 2 and 3 percent, Olmert is even making U.S. President George W. Bush's ratings look good.

With such a bleak political career, it is a wonder that Olmert has lasted this long in power. He mostly has public apathy in Israel to thank for that, though the Winograd report could be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Further north, Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon are taking advantage of Israel's political paralysis to prepare for a future conflict with IDF. As expected, the Lebanese army and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon have been incapable  of preventing Hezbollah from rearming its cadres south of the Litani River. Sources in Lebanon have revealed that Hezbollah is now buying huge quantities of wheat crops from local farmers and is importing significant shipments of medicines and foodstuffs to prepare for the possibility of a drawn-out military conflict and closure of supply lines running from Syria. These commodities are being stored in secret warehouses, some of which are underground, throughout the Hezbollah stronghold of the Bekaa Valley. The group is also busy laying underground military telephone cable networks in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa.

Hezbollah is well aware that Israel's hands might be tied up in a political fracas at the moment, but that Israel's army generals -- who make up the backbone of the Israeli government -- are not about to leave any false impressions in the region that a nonstate militant organization can impose defeat  on the most advanced military power in the Middle East. IDF sees the need for a rematch, but the type of rematch is still unclear. With the United States bogged down in Iraq and entangled in complex negotiations with Iran, the Israeli government has to consider that any war objective of crippling Hezbollah runs the risk of threatening Syrian President Bashar al Assad's hold on power and adding to the problems in the region by creating the conditions for an unpredictable Sunni regime to retake Damascus.

While Israel's northern front increasingly resembles a ticking bomb, IDF is now preparing for another ground incursion in Gaza to stem the Qassam rocket fire into Israeli territory. The political chaos brewing within the Palestinian territories allows Israel some breathing room to work out its own issues as Hamas and Fatah continue their struggle, though growing disillusionment with Hamas' political goals is creating ripe conditions for jihadist elements to take root  and threaten the Jewish state next door.

With the security issues piling up along Israel's borders, it is only a matter of time before Israel's generals begin to take a more assertive role in putting the country back on track. The appointment of Defense Ministry Director- General Gabi Ashkenazi  as the 19th IDF chief earlier this year was one significant step in that direction, though the country still needs a good deal of housekeeping, beginning with Olmert and Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who is widely seen as far too inexperienced in defense matters to hold his job title.

Though a political vacuum looks to be inevitable, it is still unclear as to who would replace Olmert. Support for Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is questionable, making conditions all the more conducive for former Israeli Prime Minister and current Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu  to come out of hiding. Over the past year, Netanyahu has pursued a careful wait-and-see approach to position himself as the right-of-center candidate favored by the national security establishment. The release of the Winograd report appears to be the catalyst that Netanyahu was waiting for to launch an aggressive campaign against Olmert. In the lead-up to the report release, Netanyahu held a public rally at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv and told his supporters to begin holding weekly protests and organize mass street demonstrations throughout Israel to broadcast Olmert's failures. Recent polls also appear to be working in Netanyahu's favor, with support for Likud rising.

Netanyahu is back in action, and Israel's adversaries are closely watching. Only time will tell if he has what it takes this time to capitalize on Olmert's weakness.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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