Sunday, November 26, 2006

Peretz: no better, no worse

Last update - 10:05 26/11/2006

Peretz: no better, no worse

By Gideon Levy

Amir Peretz is a lousy defense minister; but his predecessors in this position were no better than him. The shrieking chorus now calling for his removal - the prime minister, the Labor Party ministers, residents of Sderot - forgets that Peretz is no worse than his predecessors. But no such attack was mounted against them. Moreover, Peretz is no worse than Ehud Olmert, who "does not trust him." And who has trust in Olmert? The war, the Qassams, the lack of diplomatic action and the unnecessary bloodshed - all are the responsibility of the prime minister no less than the responsibility of his "failed" defense minister. And how remarkable - the heat is directed almost only at Peretz.

The only criticism Peretz deserves stems from the disappointment he caused: He did not bring something different as promised, but acted like his predecessors. But no one is complaining about that. His critics wanted him to be like the glorified defense ministers Shaul Mofaz, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Ehud Barak, and now want to replace him with one of them or someone similar to them. But the laugh of fate is that Peretz has conducted himself exactly like them.

So Peretz should be told: Don't be in a hurry to resign. And if you must, do it for the right reasons and not because of your critics' complaints.

How is Peretz worse than his predecessors? Was the security situation better before him? Is it because of the helplessness he has demonstrated in countering the Qassams? Even the IDF admits there is no military solution. The Qassams did not start with Peretz and will not end with the blows he inflicts. And the IDF acts exactly as it did under the previous defense ministers: showy operations of vengeance, excessive use of force, ground intrusions, liquidations, shelling and bombing from the air - actions that only stir hatred and terror. His predecessors also did this. The buses exploded during the term of Ben-Eliezer, personal security was no better under Mofaz and no one put them in the pillory as they deserved.

Is it because he launched an unnecessary war? Peretz is not the first defense minister to wage such a war and Olmert, the prime minister, is more responsible for it than the defense minister. Is it because of the IDF's lack of preparedness for war? No one can lodge this complaint against a defense minister who has only been in his position for several months. The operational and moral deterioration of the IDF did not begin with Peretz. Moshe Ya'alon, Mofaz, Ben-Eliezer and Barak bear much greater responsibility, but no criticism is leveled against them.

The fact that the IDF is almost the sole dictator of defense policy is also not something that started with Peretz. And the liquidations - Barak owns the copyright for this futile method. Ben-Eliezer and Mofaz expanded it, and regretfully Peretz is following in their path. Peretz also did not invent the confused notion that applying pressure on the Palestinian population will lead to a solution. Neither did he invent the wholesale injury of innocents or the fleeing from negotiations. This is the way they acted before him and this is what the prime minister is dictating now.

The idea that replacing Peretz could bring change is an outrageous fraud. Barak? Ami Ayalon? Ephraim Sneh? Avi Dichter? Ben-Eliezer? Every one of them would act like Peretz, and perhaps even worse. After all, each of them would seek to immediately show their superiority to Peretz and would do this by exercising more force. And the result would again be pointless bloodshed.

Even Barak, the only statesman who tried to reach a comprehensive solution, and perhaps the most suitable candidate for prime minister today, would not succeed in bringing about a change in direction. As defense minister under Olmert, in the same government with Avigdor Lieberman, Barak would only be able to hit and hit, without leading to a change in course. We have already seen how Yitzhak Rabin led the IDF under Yitzhak Shamir during the first intifada. Rabin the statesman only appeared when he rose to become prime minister. If Barak joins the Olmert government, his only contribution would be to prolong its failed term in office.

The smear campaign against Peretz is not coincidental. The motives of those seeking to depose him are transparent: The prime minister and top army brass are seeking to avoid their responsibility and place it all on the shoulders of one man, while Peretz's party "comrades" seek to inherit his position at any cost. Peretz is easy prey for those rebelling against him. He does not come from the same milieu. And what will they propose if they succeed? A different policy? A different IDF? Clearly not. They will offer the same thing, only worse.

Peretz has indeed failed in his post, but not because of what he is being accused of. Instead of charting a different direction, he followed the foolish path his predecessors paved. He did not have the courage and ability to be the Peretz who was promised. He fell victim to his lack of experience vis-a-vis the IDF and the prime minister, and quickly crashed and failed. For this, and for the bloodshed during his tenure, he should pay.

It is hard to believe that Peretz will extract himself from all this and manage to change. It is already too late; his fate has apparently been sealed. It would be better to resign over an attempt to bring real change - to work for a cease-fire, in spite of Olmert; to respond to the clear calls from the Palestinian factions for a mutual cease-fire and to give his final order: Cease firing. This is not only within his authority to do, it is his duty and it would likely save a fraction of his lost honor. Afterward, one of the glorified "security men" will replace him. Again blood will be shed in Sderot and Beit Hanun, but no one will direct their complaints against Peretz anymore.

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