On the face of it, it looks like it could be all over for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But, if he has proved to be nothing else, he has in the past proved to be a survivor. There weren’t many commentators that expected him to survive the preliminary Winograd report into the failings of Israel’s war against Hezbollah and the Lebanese people and there were even less who thought he might survive the full-on report when it was finally released. But he did.
However, the latest scandal that has embroiled him, the accusations of having accepted large amounts of money from an American businessman, may well see the end of Olmert. Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defence Minister and leader of Israel’s Labour Party that forms part of Olmert’s Kadima-led coalition government, is on the verge of threatening to withdraw from the coalition if Olmert does not quit as Prime Minister. Olmert, if he reacts anywhere near to form, is unlikely to quit unless the call becomes overwhelming from his own party as well which will leave Barak little choice but to withdraw the Labour Party from the coalition. Such action will be the trigger for an election.
If an election is called it is quite likely that the extreme right-wing Zionist Likud Party under Benjamin Netanyahu will win. If it does then the Middle East can look forward to the prospect of an Israeli attack against Iran and a full-on invasion of the Gaza Strip to ‘stop Hamas attacking Israel’ and possibly the West Bank in order to ‘pre-empt any Palestinian backlash against Israeli actions in the Gaza’. Hezbollah in Lebanon and, of course, the Lebanese people will also fall into Netanyahu’s sights.
Benjamin Netanyahu also is a very close friend of US Vice-President Dick Cheney and with the neoconservatives in the US and in the Bush administration. Netanyahu is a regular visitor to the neoconservative’s headquarters, the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, and at their retreat at Beaver Creek, Colorado, where he travels occasionally for private and discreet talks with Cheney and other neoconservatives to plot their next moves.
The Middle East now finds itself in a quandary; if Olmert stays the Palestinians in the Gaza are likely to continue to suffer as the Israeli government very slowly tightens the tourniquet on the arteries that supplies Gazans with the necessities of life. The farce of ‘peace talks’ will drag on until Bush finally goes, and the threats against Iran and Hezbollah will continue. If Olmert goes he will be replaced possibly by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni if he chooses to step down. The Middle East will fare no better under Livni. If Barak pulls out and forces an election, well… It doesn’t bear thinking about – especially if all this happens quickly and Netanyahu becomes Prime Minister while the Bush administration is still around.