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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The blind arrogance of Comrade Peretz

On Tuesday night, one of my kids came into my office giggling and announced that 'defense' minister Amir Comrade Peretz announced that if (God forbid) he wins the Labor primary next month, he would demand to be made Finance Minister instead of Defense Minister. I told my son not to worry - there is no way Peretz will be Finance Minister. And for all the same reasons he was not made Finance Minister a year ago.

But the fact that Peretz feels no shame in demanding that he be made Finance Minister says something very sad about the state of politics in this country. I'm not sure whether Peretz is blind to reality or he is just so arrogant that it doesn't matter to him. It's probably a combination of both.

This morning, the JPost's editorial dismembers Peretz limb by limb (there's a cruder way of saying it, and yes, they did that too). Deservedly:
To call it "comic" would certainly capture one aspect; "pathetic" another. But neither of these words encompasses the blind arrogance that Peretz's desperate act projects, or the sense of helplessness and anger citizens feel when confronted with politicians who so brazenly cling to power despite the near total loss of the public's confidence.


The best that can be said about Peretz's announcement is that he at least has indirectly admitted that he should not be defense minister. But if this is so he should resign. Whether he is given a different job is immaterial to his fitness for a critical security post at a time when our nation faces such serious threats.

If Peretz recognizes that he must step down, but will only leave if given a particular position, he is engaging in a form of political blackmail. This is not only unacceptable in its own right, but disqualifies him for any other senior government position.

These days, the ideal of public servants who will always put the public's interest ahead of their own seems somewhat quaint and, all too often at the highest levels, honored more in the breach than in practice. But even in our current cynical climate there should be limits to the degree this principle can be so blatantly flouted.

Given the public's view of Amir Peretz, and given the possibility that the current finance minister will have to resign under suspicion or in disgrace, can anyone argue that Peretz is the right man to revitalize the Finance Ministry?

We need leaders in the top echelons of government of whom the public can plausibly feel, at a minimum, that they are competent to do their jobs and will put the national interest above their own. Peretz has demonstrated a profound failure to do the latter, so there is no reason to think he would do so in a different ministry.

As it happens, Peretz would make a terrible finance minister on policy grounds alone, given his long career defending the most powerful public workers in the land. Our economy needs more, not less, of the reforms that raised growth and lowered unemployment, and that Peretz would fight tooth and nail.
For those who have forgotten, I called for Peretz's resignation on June 27, 2006 - just two days after Gilad Shalit was kidnapped:
At the Israeli ministry of defense, the buck stops with Defense Minister Comrade Peretz. When Peretz, whose highest rank in the army was Captain, was appointed Defense Minister there were fears that he would not be able to handle the position. There was talk about adding another Labor party MK who had been a general (Ephraim Sneh or Fuad Ben Eliezer) as his 'assistant' to actually run the Defense Ministry. But politics won out and no 'assistant' was appointed. And because Ehud Olmert wanted Labor in the cabinet and could not give Peretz the Finance Ministry (which Peretz really wanted, but which would have destroyed the economy), Peretz became defense minister. Regardless, that means the defense buck stops with Peretz. And if what the media are reporting is true, it is time for Peretz to resign.

Both HaAretz and the JPost are reporting that Ro'i Amitai, a solider who was wounded in the Kerem Shalom attack on Sunday, revealed today that troops had received a specific warning on Saturday about a tunnel that Palestinians had dug in the area and of plans to attack soldiers. The warning was ignored.

Amitai's statement appears to strengthen a similar claim made by the Shin Bet (General Security Service) that a specific warning had been passed on to the IDF. The IDF claimed that there was only a general warning of an attack in the area.

DF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee today that there was a warning over the past 10 days on the general location between Sufa and the Kerem Shalom crossings, but no specific warnings.

As a result of the warning, both crossings were closed down.

Senior Shin Bet sources confirmed late Sunday that they had passed specific intelligence regarding the attack to relevant officials inside the IDF.

The information had included the precise location of the attack and the fact that a tunnel would be involved, but did not specify a time frame.

Defense Minister Comrade Amir Peretz, however, told reporters that the IDF had only received a general warning.

He said that the IDF had received a warning about a large-scale terror attack that was the background to a number of IDF operations over the last two weeks, including the targeted killing of Popular Resistance Committees leader Jamal Abu Samhadana (who planned Sunday's attack) and the recent incursion into the Gaza Strip on Saturday in which two Palestinian terrorists were arrested.

But IDF soldier Ro'i Amitai, the sole surviving member of the tank crew hit in the attack, said that his unit had received an intelligence warning just a day earlier, indicating Palestinians were digging a tunnel in order to carry out an attack.

The former head of the Knesset committee, MK Yuval Steinitz, said, "one of the failures was that the Shin Bet intelligence was not taken seriously."

MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) pointed out that Amitai had said that the soldiers had received a specific warning, and that there apparently had been a failure. "I can't understand why the heads of the [defense] establishment are trying to gloss over it," he said. Vilan was referring to both Peretz and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, both of whom claimed that the IDF had prepared adequately for the attack. I understand why they are trying to gloss over it: they would like to keep their jobs.

Unfortunately, what happened at Kerem Shalom is not even a subject of the Winograd Commission investigation. They are only looking into the events in Lebanon. Nevertheless, it is long past the time for Comrade Peretz to resign and return home to Sderot. It's the only thing he can do now that would benefit the country.


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