Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick, in typical sky-is-falling ultra-hawk fashion, has declared that defense minister Ehud Barak's enthusiasm for Israel's recent truce with Hamas has
two possible explanations. Either Barak is risking the lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians to pander to the most radical elements of Israeli society while seeking to win sympathy points from Cairo in a general election campaign, or he is gullible enough to believe that Israel's radical left and the Egyptian regime are moved by facts rather than interests.
There is in fact a third, far more plausible explanation, confirmed by the subsequent deal between Labor and Kadima: Barak knows full well that an Israeli invasion of the Gaza strip is necessary and inevitable, but prefers for personal political reasons to delay it until after PM Ehud Olmert has been ousted. More than anything else, Barak wants to return to the prime ministership, and this ordering of events maximizes his chances of doing so.

Consider the consequences for Barak of an immediate assault on Hamas: if the operation is a success, then Olmert will have repaired, to a large extent, one of the biggest stains on his reputation: his disastrous mismanagement of the Lebanon war in 2006, and its implications for his capacity as PM to command the nation's defenses. His credentials thus restored, he might well succeed in retaining his leadership of Kadima, and thus the prime ministership, until the next election, at which point voters favoring the current government are more likely to vote for his party than for a Labor party that has subordinated itself to his rule.

Of course, the Gaza operation could also go badly, whether as a result of Olmert's meddling, Barak's errors or IDF blunders. In that case, Barak will be at least as badly tarnished by the failure as Olmert. Indeed, the latter has already proven his skill at deflecting blame for military failures onto his subordinates, and Barak would be an ideal target. Either way, then, Barak's chances of succeeding Olmert as prime minister are poor.

Now consider his chances under the two new deals: after a summer of relative calm--probably punctuated by attacks from Gaza that inflame the public even more against the Olmert government--Kadima casts Olmert aside and replaces him with a relative novice, most probably Tzipi Livni. The newcomer will have to ensure the continued support of Kadima's coalition partners, of which Labor is the most important, and Barak can use this leverage to guarantee not only a Gaza invasion soon afterwards, but also plenty of freedom of action for both the IDF's military campaign and his own political campaign. If the military campaign goes well, he should be able to claim the lion's share of the credit--and if it goes badly, he's far better placed to scapegoat Olmert's more junior, less experienced successor than the wily Olmert himself.

Glick is of course quite correct in one respect: Barak appears to be willing to sacrifice the lives and safety of Israeli soldiers and civilians for the sake of politics. however, his political calculations are neither naive nor deluded. They're quite subtle and deep--and if all goes according to plan, I give him tolerably good odds of succeeding.
For some reason local Starbucks outlets are peddling copies of this novel, which is narrated by an unusually deep, insightful dog. (The advertising slogan is, "Narrator. Philosopher. Dog.") Without having read a single word, I can already write a summary review (or perhaps just a review headline): "Jonathan Livingston Beagle".