Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Retired Plumber Speaks Out

A retired plumber thought he had the cause of the present security and political boondoggle in Israel. This home-spun philosopher and street-wise political analyst claimed that the former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was ultimately to blame.

“Its all that Greek Island thing,” he said. “Sharon tried to cover it up, brought in Olmert, who was involved in it, to keep him quiet, even started that nonsense in the Gaza strip to distract the public’s attention from any indictment. For him and his sons. And it worked. So then what happened? Yaalon (Gen. “Bugi”Yaalon, former Chief of Staff) quit over the Gaza withdrawl.

“And Haalutz was brought in. Then Sharon gets sick, and Olmert steps in. He has to keep the coalition intact, so he gives Peretz the Ministry of Defense, which he deserves about as much as Achmanejad deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. These morons go to war. Now we’ve got this corruption coming out. Like Sharon didn’t know about it? He brought in Olmert, you understand. Now we’re stuck with this mess. It’s all Sharon’s fault.”

Not exactly Eric Hoffer, but folksy none-the-less, and a fairly accurate assessment of the public’s mood. And not everything can be blamed on former Prime Minister Sharon. Much of the corruption and old-boy network way of doing things has been going on in Israel for decades.

Back in the 1970’s, when the Labor party held nearly unrivaled power in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, the scandals were in the headlines. The problems are not indigenous to any one party, but are spread across the political spectrum.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is currently under investigation for yet another scandal, one that has been discussed in the past. Olmert is suspected of manipulating bids for the purchase of Bank Leumi so that one of his cronies won the tender.

Last week Olmert’s secretary was arrested for helping cronies get breaks on their tax bills. The level of corruption seems to have reached a level unprecedented in Israel. Most Israelis think that this corruption has affected the way Israel conducts wars.

Ze’ev Shiff, Haaretz’s veteran military correspondent, has laid the blame for the last war on the door step of former Chief of Staff Dan Haltuz, who resigned two days ago, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Shiff suggests that all three of them resign.

The new Chief of Staff is usually selected by the Defense Minister, in this case Amir Peretz. However Prime Minister Olmert has stepped in and said he wants to approve the appointment.

Ze’ev Shiff has pointed out that none of the “troika” have military experience. Former Prime Minister Sharon did, and could off-set Halutz’s relative inexperience. Ehud Olmert can’t, according to Shiff.

So the question is now, who else will go in Dan Halutz’s wake? The Israeli media speculate that Amir Peretz is on his way out. Some people in the Israeli street, like the retired plumber, believe Peretz would have better served his country and himself by taking the Social Welfare portfolio, for which he was better suited, since he had been the Chairman of the Histadrut, Israel’s labor federation.

The questions one hears these days is what are the leaders thinking? Do they care at all about the country, or simply about staying in power? Apparently the latter. The Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday that no motions have been brought in the Knesset by any party to dissolve the government and call for early elections. Prime Minister Olmert has apparently managed to weather this storm, so far.

The other Ehud, however, is fast on his heels. Ehud Barak is making a strong bid for the Labor Party leadership, running on his military record. He was also deeply involved in peace negotiations with both the Palestinians, and the Syrians. He knows the turf.

Lastly, there is the issue of Syria. The latest reports to come out of Israeli media are denials by both Israel and Syria that peace talks had taken place at any level. However, it seems as if Syria’s leader Basher Assad is indeed earnest in wanting peace. Assad reportedly fears his country being overrun by Hezbollah, swallowed whole by Iran. Assad sees Israel and the United States as his natural allies in this struggle to keep Syria from turning into an Islamic state.

Robert D. Kaplan, a respected editor at the Atlantic Monthly, and former colleague of this reporter, seems to agree. In a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, Kaplan, who spent a few years living in Israel after making Aliya, did say that the Syrian Alawite sect was Shiite, while the Israeli papers say that it is Sunni. What is the difference? The Iranian Mullah’s and Imams and revolutionary leaders are Shiite. The Saudi’s, Jordanians, and other ‘moderate’ Arab states are Sunni. These two groups are bitter enemies, as can be seen by the endless conflicts in Iraq.

The following weeks should prove very interesting, as the State unravels its case against Prime Minister Olmert, his secretary, the President of the country Moshe Katzav, and others. It may even happen that the Attorney General Manny Mazuz will lose his job. Mazuz has already said he can’t take on the case against Olmert as it will be a conflict of interests. One wonders if upon closer scrutiny it won’t come out that Mazuz should have also excused himself from other cases, like that against former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“These old boys, they just keep scratching each other’s backs,” said the retired plumber. “But this time they may have gotten past the fur and drawn blood.”