Opinion

The next war may be just around the corner for Israel

There are consequences to losing a war, or being perceived not to have won. Israel's ability to win wars has been based on its capacity to pound its many enemies into submission whenever they have dared attack. Depending on how you count them, Israel has been the target of at least four wars started by one or more of her neighbors, as well as numerous terrorist attacks. It had won all of them until 2006.

Last summer, in response to repeated guerrilla assaults by Hezbollah - or Party of God - a militant Lebanese Shia political party, Israel invaded Lebanon, but failed to drive out the terrorist organization, or free two captured Israeli soldiers. A committee, appointed to study why Israeli forces were not victorious, blamed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Hezbollah quickly regrouped and has restocked its armaments. Israel's new ambassador to the United States, Sallai Meridor, tells me there could be another war by this summer, probably launched from terrorist positions in Gaza, Lebanon and possibly Syria, which has not directly attacked Israel since it was bloodied in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Meridor says that while Hezbollah is bad, Hamas, the largest and most influential Palestinian militant group, which is entrenched in Gaza, is even worse. That's because Hamas, he says, has more armed terrorists and is stockpiling missiles and explosives. It is also supported by Iran. Hezbollah, which Israel estimates had thousands of short-range missiles when its positions in Lebanon were attacked last summer, is supported by Iran, as well. All share the same objective: the eradication of Israel.

The Winograd Committee report on last summer's war is an indictment of Israel's top leadership, including the prime minister, the minister of defense, Amir Peretz, who has announced he's leaving by the end of the month, and the chief of staff, who also submitted his resignation.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called upon Olmert to resign. He has refused, and in a mark of his weakness, Olmert declined to fire Livni, saying they could continue to work together. One is left to wonder how.

Polls in Israel show Olmert's approval numbers are worse than those of President Bush. More than 60 percent of Israelis want Olmert to resign. He survived three "no confidence" votes in the Knesset last week. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is three times as popular as any potential rival.

If there is to be another war and so soon, Israelis are asking themselves who they would rather have leading their nation: a wishful thinker like Ehud Olmert, who, according to the government report on the Lebanon war, "made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one," or Benjamin Netanyahu, who understands better than most that Israel won't get a second chance in an all-out war.

It's a good bet that Olmert's days are numbered and Netanyahu's return as prime minister is drawing near. It had better come quickly, because if Ambassador Meridor's worst-case scenario comes true, not only summer is just around the corner; the next war may be as well.

Cal Thomas, a columnist for Tribune Media Services, can be reached at tmseditors@tribune.com.

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