- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

The political storm clouds around Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have grown to the point where they threaten to become a distraction from the mounting security threats to that country. Israeli officials are worried about the prospect that Syria may attempt to start another war over the Golan Heights, and Jerusalem is trying to fashion a response to the military buildup taking place in Gaza under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority — currently dominated by Hamas, an ally of rogue-state regimes in Iran and Syria. Since Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in August 2005, the PA has permitted massive amounts of guns, rockets and missiles to be smuggled into Gaza, mostly from Egypt. Last week, Hamas announced it would no longer be bound by a “cease-fire” with Israel that it agreed to in November (a cease-fire during which it tried to fire hundreds of rockets and mortars into the Jewish state).

Yesterday, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, warned that in Lebanon, Hezbollah is attempting to establish its presence south of the Litani River near the Israeli border. He added that the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon appears incapable of keeping Shi’ite radicals out, and that embattled Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has taken only limited action to stop Hezbollah from being rearmed through Syria. Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi also warned that if rocket attacks on southern Israel continue to be launched from Gaza, Israel would have no alternative but to “take action,” and that a major IDF ground operation in Gaza would be necessary to eliminate the threat. Mr. Olmert and his left-of-center political coalition continue to resist calls for such an operation.

But in the coming days, these threats to Israel and its citizens will likely be overshadowed by the prime minister’s political difficulties. Mr. Olmert’s popularity numbers are in the single digits, and today an independent commission is expected to release a report harshly criticizing his performance during last summer’s war against Hezbollah — depicting Mr. Olmert as a weak leader who stood by passively while the Israeli military failed to come up with a credible plan for dealing with the terrorist threat from the north. Last week, the country’s independent controller issued a scathing report which said that Mr. Olmert may have been guilty of criminal behavior in his previous government post as minister of commerce and industry because he participated in discussions that resulted in the awarding of a $10 million grant to a company run by a close personal friend.

In the coming days, Israelis will decide whether Mr. Olmert is the right man to lead the country in these perilous times or whether his fight for political survival has become a distraction from the jihadist threat to their country. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime threatens to attack Israel, and stories about Mr. Olmert’s political problems are published in regime-dominated media organs like the Tehran Times.

In the short term, don’t be surprised if Iran and Syria, working in conjunction with Hamas, gamble on the possibility that Israelis will focus on the prime minister’s political problems rather than security threats like the anarchoterrorist state being created in Gaza. Earlier this month, the Palestinian justice minister, a Hamas member, said the PA can no longer control terrorist gangs operating in Gaza, while PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s calls for calm are ignored by some in his “moderate” Fatah faction — whose members comprise some of the most dangerous terrorist operatives in Gaza today. Mr. Abbas and Hamas are currently demanding that Israel extend the Gaza “cease-fire” to the West Bank and end its successful anti-terror operations there. It’s a deal that no Israeli government could possibly agree to.

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