If life were a television show then the Labor Party primaries would be a Seinfeld episode. Like Seinfeld, yesterday's primaries for Labor's top-spot were about nothing but being on the air.
The frontrunners, former prime minister and IDF chief of staff Ehud Barak, and former Navy commandant and Shin Bet chief MK Ami Ayalon, had no positions to speak of on the issues of the day. They had nothing to say about the Iranian nuclear program. They had nothing to say about Syria's daily threats of war. They had nothing to say about Gaza's post-withdrawal transformation into a mini-Taliban ruled Afghanistan replete with training bases for all the major global terror networks.
Rather than relate to the threats that Israel faces, they showed Israel their faces. They preened before the Labor voters, regaling them with tales of their glory and wisdom. And then each assembled a star-studded array of retired generals and party intellectuals and reporters to tell us how wonderful each of them are and how shallow and corrupt all of the other candidates are.
They attributed the stature of strategy to bromides about their commitment to peace, and then spoke about how and at what price they will remain in Ehud Olmert's government.
THEIR WILLINGNESS to remain in the Olmert government was key. Because that was what this primary was all about: acquiring and preserving power – for the candidates, for the Labor party and for the Israeli Left as a whole. The underlying theme of the five-month long Labor primary was that power must be maintained at all costs. The party must remain in the government because more frightening than Iran or Syria or Hamas or Hizbullah is the specter of Knesset elections.
Those elections, the candidates, their spinmeisters and media comrades all agree must be avoided because everyone knows what elections will bring. Allowing the nation to determine its government will bring Likud and Binyamin Netanyahu to power. Allowing the nation to choose it leaders means allowing the nation to reject them.
The fact that today the sole idea around which the Labor party stands united is the need to prevent Likud and Netanyahu from gaining power makes it indistinguishable from the ruling Kadima candidates list. The lengths that Kadima is willing to go to remain in power were made clear in a little item in Haaretz last week.
THE NEWSPAPER'S political commentator Yossi Verter reported on a meeting that took place at the home of a rabbi in the south who has gained a following of politicians for his ability to predict the future. A cabinet minister from Kadima was present at the meeting where the rabbi predicted that a terrible war will break out within the next month to three months. The rabbi then consoled his guests by claiming that the war will save Olmert's government.
As Verter put it, "The minister left the meeting feeling at once pessimistic and optimistic: Pessimistic because there will be war, optimistic because according to the rabbi, war means survival, that is, Olmert is sitting pretty." And unfortunately, on at least one count, the rabbi is certainly right. The probability of war in the near future is high. The fact that this is the case screams out from every quarter.
Speaking Saturday in Isfahan, one of the Iranian cities made famous in recent years for its illicit nuclear facilities, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again threatened Israel with annihilation. "Sixty year of invasion and assassination is enough," he said. "If you do not cease invasion and massacre, soon the hand of power of the nations of the region will rub you criminals with earth."
For his part, Syria's dictator Bashar Assad, who was just resoundingly reelected by a national referendum which pitted him against no one, is busily threatening Israel with war while using his al-Qaida surrogates in Fatah al Islam to overthrow the Lebanese government. As the Syrian dissident Reform Syria Party revealed this week, Fatah al Islam's commander is Shakir Absi, an until recently jailed Syrian Air Force officer. Syrian intelligence released Absi from prison and sent him to Lebanon to foment the overthrow of the Lebanese government.
Then of course there are the Iranian and Syrian Palestinian proxies, Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad which are fighting a mini-war against Israel in the south. Speaking at the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin explained that the IDF operations in Gaza have in no way diminished the Palestinians' military capabilities. Hamas, Diskin said can turn its missiles and mortars on Ashkelon any time it wishes.
AND NOT only is the Olmert government failing to degrade the Palestinians' military capacity through limited air strikes, its feckless diplomacy has also failed to prevent Hamas's acquisition of international legitimacy. Britain, for instance has reacted to the abduction of BBC reporter Alan Johnston in Gaza by embracing Hamas.
As British architects, physicians, vicars and professors line up to boycott Israel, the British glitterati and incoming prime minister Gordon Brown happily shared a stage with Hamas spokesman and terrorist Ghazi Hamad at a literary festival in Wales. Hamad wowed his audience by spreading lies about his non-existent efforts to free Johnston.
The British embrace of jihadists is being matched by the collapse of the US policy on the war. Over the weekend The Boston Globe reported that the US closed down the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group, an interagency working group established last year to undermine the Syrian and Iranian regimes. The group was disbanded because the Bush administration has abandoned its policy of regime change in both countries. US Ambassador in Iraq Ryan Crocker's meeting yesterday with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad is just the latest evidence of this US embrace of appeasement.
Speaking of the significance of the American move, Iraqi parliamentarian Mithal al Alousi said that by opening direct contacts with the Iranians, the US "gives Iran guardianship over the Middle East."
All of these developments bode ill for Israel. And there are voices in Israel who understand this and have clear visions for defending the country against the gathering storm. While Barak, Ayalon, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the other Labor candidates spent last weekend attacking one another while committing themselves to preventing general elections, and Olmert and his political advisors mouthed talking points about the need for "stability" which can only be achieved by preventing elections, other voices eked out a message of resolve and wisdom.
IN AN interview with the Wall Street Journal's online Opinion Journal, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu cogently explained his strategy of using free markets to exert pressure on the Iranian regime that could lead to its overthrow. For the past six months, Netanyahu has been making frequent visits to the US to try to convince state and local governments to divest their public employee pension funds from companies that do business with Iran. Netanyahu explained that Americans across the political spectrum can agree to the principle that "a regime that promotes genocide cannot receive American taxpayers' savings . . . through European intermediaries."
In Netanyahu's view, squeezing the companies that invest in Iran's oil industries will reduce the companies' stock prices and force them to end their cooperation with Iran. The foreign pullout will paralyze the Iranian economy and force Iranian economic elites to pressure the government to end its nuclear weapons program, or perhaps bring down the government.
While it is far from clear that the divestment program, which was originally conceived by the Washington based Center for Security Policy, can in fact cause Iran to end its nuclear weapon
s program, it is absolutely clear that the initiative will make it more difficult for Iran to freely advance it. That is, even if it is only partially successful, the plan to end US investment in companies that enable the Iranian regime to function, will limit the regime's maneuver room.
While Netanyahu was promoting a plan to build financial coalitions against Iran, former IDF Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya'alon took to the airwaves back home to point to the dangers of the Olmert government's refusal to take action against Gaza.
"The problem in Gaza won't go away, and no one can solve it for us, not Egypt, or an international force," Ya'alon said in an interview with Channel 2.
While the Olmert government dithers and allows Sderot to be abandoned by residents it refuses to defend, Ya'alon said, "We have to get to the terrorists, get to their workshops and hit their infrastructure. We did it in Defensive Shield and we had our reservations before launching that operation too. You have to be blind to think entering Gaza in unnecessary."
What we see in Netanyahu and Ya'alon as well as in their colleagues is that Israel needn't be led by people who think that war is preferable to elections. We needn't be sitting by passively as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice advances James Baker's policy of selling out Israel for a temporary lull in the carnage in Iraq that could allow the US to meekly retreat. We needn't be discussing surrender of territory to regimes that are actively preparing to attack us. We needn't be listening to men who think that leadership of a country at war is nothing but a popularity contest.
Many commentators have for months ignored Labor's symbiotic relationship with Kadima and argued wrongly that the fate of the Olmert government would be decided in the Labor primaries. Given the fact that Labor and Kadima have identical interests, there was never any chance that Labor would bolt the government.
If Israelis wish to be led by men intent on defending us in our hour of peril, we need to be pressuring Olmert's other coalition partners – Shas and Yisrael Beitenu – to abandon him. If we allow these empty-headed, self-obsessed incompetents in Kadima and Labor to remain in power unchallenged, we can trust not only the rabbi's prediction of war. We can also trust that that war will be led as incompetently as the last one.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.