Under pressure for months by the public prosecutor investigating graft and harassing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on his inconsistent testimony under oath about the probe, the Israeli leader has at last collapsed to demands and announced he will not stand for his own party’s elections. This ends his career for now and removes him from the argument after September.

Olmert has been a problem since the accident of his prime ministership in the winter of 2006. No one chose him; no one wanted him. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon installed Olmert as his deputy after moving the country through the wretchedly wrong-headed policy of withdrawing the Israeli farmers from the Gaza Strip and turning the whole beachfront property over to gangsters and their sponsors in Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh and Tehran – a ruinous policy that was apparent at the time if you just spoke to the farmers.

WND Jerusalem bureau chief Aaron Klein and I broadcast from the Gaza Strip just days before the withdrawal. We were adamant, our guests were adamant, that this was a bad choice. Olmert was another part of the bad choice.

Ariel Sharon expected to remain in office many years, and to live to his 90s. I spoke on-air to Sharon in September 2005, on his last visit to the United States, and he was confident that he could hold together the Israeli state in the face of the swelling ambition of Hamas and the dissipation and deception of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the remains of Fatah and their enforcers, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorists. Perhaps Sharon could have done this, but his health decline and then permanent disability left the leadership of Sharon’s creation, Kadima, in the hands of his last bad choice, his own deputy in the party, the banal, unloved, surly, unfeared Olmert. Olmert’s miscues during the Hezbollah war of July-August-September ’06 were not a surprise to those who watched him. Olmert’s popularity cratered and never recovered.

Beyond cynicism

The puzzle to me these last two years is why the Israeli system prefers a flimsy character like Olmert to almost anyone. Coalition governments seem to favor the inert and goofily pretentious, and that is Olmert. The corruption charges seem trite. I am told that everyone of note in the Knesset understands cash, but cash in paper sacks in New York? It goes beyond cynicism to prefer the crook you know to the crook who knows what he’s doing. Olmert bullied his way through the summer. His departure leaves no prints and no visible scars. The contest will turn between the confident generalissimo Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz – a former defense minister – and the sympathetic foreign minister, Tzippi Livni. I am told that Mofaz dislikes Labor Chairman Ehud Barak, the other general who used to be a prime minister (just before Sharon in 2000), so much that he will tolerate forming a government with another strongman, Bibi Netanyahu, the opposition leader.

The Iran option

What makes the dance of bigwigs so compelling is that this is the crew that must defend Israel from the decidedly cocky Tehran tyrants, who are – this is not a game – coming on swiftly. A source told me weeks ago that Tehran has communicated to Cairo, Damascus, Beirut, Riyadh and Baghdad that once the Americans are gone from the region, it is attacking Israel to finish it off. The post-Olmert leadership must act effectively. The clock is running. Israel cannot stop Tehran, but it can slow it down. Will Mofaz and Bibi approve a strike to bloody the nose of the ayatollah? Not an air strike. A jab.

True, Tehran may make a mistake and overreact. Unlikely, but it is possible. Waiting for the Gaza arsenals to fill up and launch into Ashkelon and Beersheba is no option. And Hezbollah is fully re-armed in Bekaa. A repeat of ’06 is unacceptable, especially since Damascus will join in this time. The Iran option is to move first. How? A repeat of Sept. 6, 2007, is no answer, and might not describe the nature of the threat. Tehran means to provoke the attack. Jerusalem knows this. My best Israel Defense Forces source tells me there is a surprise. The skies remain good into October. What about the sea routes? What about another Karine A? That frustrated Arafat in ’02. Would it work today?

Olmert is gone. He was an aimless, trivial problem that went on so long it made Israel numb. Now Jerusalem wakes up. Now the problem is completely and simply the defense of Jerusalem.

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