Until Olmert’s election, every Israeli prime minister could lay claim to the Zionist ethos of heroism. Israel’s leaders were divided into two groups: the European-born founders like David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Menachem Begin who embodied self-sacrifice, and the native-born sabras like Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Barak who boasted first-rate military careers. Even Benjamin Netanyahu, the only one of the sabra prime ministers who didn’t rise to the top of the security establishment, was an officer in Israel’s most elite commando unit; his brother, Yoni, the fallen hero of the Entebbe rescue mission in 1976, added an heroic aura to the Netanyahu family.
Olmert, neither founder nor hero, is the first professional politician to serve as prime minister. Yet, in resisting calls for his resignation, he is insisting on being absolved of the standards for personal accountability in war to which other prime ministers were held. Golda Meir and her defense minister, Moshe Dayan, were forced from office by an outraged public because of failure in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, while Menachem Begin and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, were compelled to resign because of failure in the first Lebanon War in 1982. Olmert, though, sees himself as immune from such archaic values as personal responsibility. Even before the release of the final version of the Winograd report, Olmert had announced that he wouldn’t resign no matter what the commission concluded.
Olmert’s fatal flaw, and the source of his failure in Lebanon, is arrogance.