Israel — and the Middle East — After the Olmert Announcement

Israel — and the Middle East — After the Olmert Announcement

Predicting the course of events in the Middle East is like trying to look into the future of a chess game in which a hundred players make moves over a dozen boards. The number of possible outcomes became even greater after Wednesday's announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he will resign following his party's upcoming primaries.

Olmert's words managed to pack emotional drama even though they did not come as a surprise. The Israeli leader has suffered under the growing weight of corruption scandals, with the public's patience with him having long run out. Israelis might have felt more forgiving had Olmert performed better during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. As it was, Olmert's support dwindled to single digits. Under pressure from his own party, and from coalition partner Ehud Barak of the Labor Party, he conceded defeat even before the legal case against him concluded, and despite adamant denials that he has done anything wrong.

Ironically, Olmert could remain prime minister for a long time. Much has to happen before a new government is chosen. This means, among other things, that urgent matters of peace -- and war -- will be handled by a lame duck government. Olmert said peace with the Palestinians and with Syria is within reach. But making the risky decisions required for a peace deal will be even more difficult for a government without public backing. Then, of course, there is Iran. With the Iranian government continuing to taunt Israel with threats of obliteration while it defies international calls to stop enriching uranium, the possibility of an Israeli attack cannot be discounted. Still, it is difficult to see such a perilous campaign launched by a premier who has all but left office.

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