What Can Be Learned from the Memoirs of Two Israeli Prime Ministers Whose Terms Ended in Failure?

Aug. 21 2019

Last year saw the publication of two memoirs by former Israeli prime ministers: My Country, My Life (in English), by Ehud Barak, and In the First Person (in Hebrew), by Ehud Olmert. To the Israeli public, both Ehuds are remembered as failures. Besides Barak’s withdrawal from Lebanon, there was his failed peace bid—rejected by Yasir Arafat—followed by the second intifada, which drove him from office and from which the Labor party never recovered. Olmert’s record includes an even more generous failed peace bid—rejected by Mahmoud Abbas—and his poor conduct of the Lebanon war, which drove him from office and from which his now-defunct Kadimah party never recovered. To top it off, he was later convicted of corruption charges and spent time in jail.

Benjamin Kerstein reviews both books:

While sometimes critical of [the author’s] opponents, Barak’s My Country, My Life is remarkably generous and high-spirited, with little trace of remonstration or anger.

[Nonetheless], on the question of Israel-Palestinian peace, one must admit that Barak’s failure was total. And it is to his credit that he makes no attempt to evade this fact. [Moreover], he reveals . . . that extensive intelligence even before the Camp David negotiations showed that the Palestinians were preparing for war. . . . The terror wave, in other words, took Israel by surprise, but not Barak and his government. Here one must ask: why did Barak fail to take the proper precautions? . . . Why did he leave Israel open to such a devastating assault?

While Olmert’s failures may have left behind a smaller body count, he is, in Kerstein’s evaluation, far less willing to acknowledge it:

In the First Person is, one regrets to say, a laborious read: badly written, arrogant, ill-structured, laden with self-pity, self-evidently dishonest, and unremittingly bitter.

Olmert . . . spends dozens of pages describing the intricate negotiations [with the Palestinians], his personal cultivation of Mahmoud Abbas, and most of all the far-reaching concessions he was prepared to make to reach peace. It is clear that he is . . . proud of his efforts. But in retrospect, they seem both quixotic and ill-conceived from the start.

[The] concessions Olmert was prepared to make, like those of Barak, now seem to be at best reckless and at worst disastrous. . . . Olmert’s concessionary attitude seems to have bordered on obsession. On one occasion the Palestinian president, while being hosted for a dinner at the prime minister’s residence, asked Olmert for the release of 500 prisoners. Olmert said no: he would be happy to release 900. Unlike Barak, Olmert is unable to entertain the possibility that for Abbas, . . . peace may simply be undesirable.

Read more at Tel Aviv Review of Books

More about: Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Israeli politics, Second Intifada, Second Lebanon War

Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria