Commentators described Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as a man who spoke during the recent Lebanon War like Churchill, but acted like Chamberlain. Heroic statements preceded actions that seemed timid, delayed, inelegant, and unsuccessful by comparison.
Now he may be doing it again.
He has ratcheted up his rhetoric about Iran's nuclear program. He has said it is the most severe threat against the Jewish people and Israel since 1938; that Israel cannot tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons; and that Israel knows what it must do.
Against this, the opinion of numerous military persons is that the Iranian nuclear project is dispersed and well protected, and that Israel does not have the capacity to destroy it, or in the best case to delay further development by more than a few years. Moreover, an Israeli military action is likely to isolate Israel even more than at present in international politics, as well as to spur whatever sentiments exist in Iran to retaliate as severely as possible as soon as possible.
So why is the prime minister talking so tough? First, perhaps, because he is good at it. He may not be in Churchill's league, or even in John Kennedy's, but he knows how to talk and to strum the nationalist heart strings. He tells a number of Israelis and overseas Jews what they want to hear.
Secondly, he is in trouble. His performance in the recent war and several charges of corruption have dropped his public standing to record lows. Benyamin Netanyahu is climbing back from what were even lower scores in public esteem, and Avigdor Lieberman is moving higher in prominence from his posture even further to the right than Netanyahu.
Talk is cheap? Perhaps in the short run, but Olmert's talk is also dangerous.
Not all is gruesome. We are just back from the Negev and Eilat, where much was awesome in the positive sense. We left the southern resort city before the arrival of 1,000 people from Sderot, now enjoying a week's paid vacation in a five-star hotel (we made do with a four-star hotel) at the expense of Arkady Gaidamak. He is one of our Russian billionaires, currently wanted by authorities in France, who is making his name (and perhaps paving the way to the Knesset) by high profile activity as the owner of a football team and as a supporter of deserving Israelis. He spent millions to provide refuge in a tent city in the south during the Lebanon war for low-income northerners threatened by rockets from Lebanon, and now this gesture for people of Sderot who are suffering from rockets falling on them from Gaza.
A number of established politicians are speaking out against this new boy in their game, except for Avigdor Lieberman. He may see Gaidamak as a potential partner for appealing to the million or so Russian speakers who may comprise 15 percent of the electorate. And Gaidamak's contributions to low-income people from the north, and now from Sderot, will endear him to another slice of the Israeli electorate.
Meanwhile, legal authorities are pursuing investigations of Gaidamak about money laundering in the range of US $50 million. At least one of his potential rivals has said that Gaidamak's Jewish identity is suspect, which is not unlikely for someone coming from the former Soviet Union. Stay tuned. This story will continue for some time.Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 17, 2006 12:17 AM