debkafile Exclusive: Israeli cabinet crisis sparked by accelerated Palestinian missile offensive. Olmert prepares defense minister’s ouster

debkafile‘s political sources report prime minister Ehud Olmert is preparing to sack Labor leader Amir Peretz. They expect the post to be offered to the former Labor leader, prime minister, chief of staff Ehud Barak, with ex-Shin Beit director, ex-navy commander Ami Ayalon as his deputy. Olmert plans to offer Peretz the social welfare post with broad powers.
The prime minister’s first move Monday, Nov. 20, was a complaint that Peretz, by communicating directly with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, had jeopardized his own secret efforts to achieve a ceasefire with the Palestinians. Olmert has hitherto hesitated to provoke his senior coalition partner by this move – despite the clamor by politicians and the public after the Lebanon war – for fear that the head for security failures would then be directed full blast at himself. Both are accused of missteps for lack of experience in security matters. For the same reason, Peretz held back over sacking the chief of staff.
However, Olmert’s hand is now forced by the acute crisis over the government’s failure to subdue the escalating missile attacks from Gaza. It is coupled by criticism from the ministers of his own Kadima as well as Labor members for a cabinet reshuffle to demote Peretz – partly over his incompetence and partly to clear the way for the contest for a new Labor leader. Peretz’s rivals are no longer willing to wait for the scheduled Labor leadership vote in May.
debkafile‘s sources add that Olmert hopes Peretz will move over willingly. To make the welfare portfolio more attractive, he is asking vice prime minister Shimon Peres to relinquish Negev and Galilee development planning and attach it to the social welfare portfolio.
The prime minister hopes that by bolstering defense with two experienced former generals he will lift his falling popular rating, improve the look of his Kadima party and, above all, prolong his cabinet’s life expectancy. He may not find it plain sailing. Our sources report that Peretz’s Labor backers led by education minister Yuli Tamir are spoiling for a fight. They may threaten to topple the Olmert government by a Labor walkout if he goes through with demoting their leader sideways.

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