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September 18, 2008 - Image 33

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-09-18

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Shaul Mofaz

From tough general to hawkish politician.

Roy Eitan

Jewish Telegraphic Agency



f Shaul Mofaz succeeds Ehud
Olmert as the head of the Kadima
Party and, eventually, as Israeli
prime minister, he may have Iran to
Fifty years after Mofaz left his native
Tehran for the fledgling Jewish state, the
retired general-turned-politician has
made the Iranian threat — be it nuclear
bombs or support for terrorism — the
centerpiece of his run for top office.
"The Iranians are the root of all evil:'
the gravelly voiced Mofaz said shortly
after officially launching his campaign
following Olmert's announcement that
he would not run for re-election.
The strategy is clear. With polls show-
ing Mofaz trailing Foreign Minister
Tzipi Livni before the Sept. 17 leader-
ship election in Kadima, the former
army chief of staff and ex-defense min-
ister is playing up his military pedigree.
"In Israeli politics, there is a basic
truism that the strong leader with a
background in national security has
an advantage U.S. political consultant
Arthur Finkelstein wrote in a July 31 let-
ter to Mofaz that was leaked to Israel's
Channel 2 TV. "I am convinced that you
will win the Kadima primaries because,
in this case, you are the strong leader."
Mofaz, 59, currently Israel's transpor-
tation minister, is a relative newcomer
to politics but has been on the national
stage for a decade. In 1998, then-Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appoint-
ed the celebrated paratrooper officer,
who took part in the 1976 Entebbe
rescue, to be the Israel Defense Forces'
chief of staff. Mofaz served in the post
under three prime ministers, including
Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon.
Mofaz's handling of the second inti-
fada, his greatest challenge as chief of
staff, was somewhat controversial. He
backed tough tactics to put down the
campaign of Palestinian terrorism,
including targeted assassinations of
Palestinian leaders. His positions won
him plaudits among many in Israel, but
his tactics were criticized overseas and
were seen by some Israelis as exceed-
ingly harsh.

Shaul Mofaz

After he left the IDF to become
defense minister under Sharon, Mofaz
unwittingly was recorded urging Sharon
to assassinate Palestinian leader Yasser
Even after leaving the right-wing
Likud Party for Sharon's newly founded
centrist alternative, Kadima — a move
taken only after initially rejecting the
idea and declaring himself a candidate
for the Likud's leadership — Mofaz has
not shied away from embracing hawkish
In June, he told an interviewer that
Israel would attack Iran if the Islamic
Republic continued its program to
develop nuclear weapons.
"The sanctions are ineffective Mofaz
said. "Attacking Iran, in order to stop its
nuclear plans, will be unavoidable."
Oil prices surged in response; but
Mofaz held firm, repeating his assertion
several days later and saying during a
visit to Washington, "The existence of
the State of Israel is more important
than gas prices."
Such indelicate talk has stirred con-
cern among some in Israel that Mofaz is
not ready to be a statesman.
"Had Shaul Mofaz been contending
for the leadership of a rightist militant
party, we would not expect anything
else of him:' veteran political analyst
Emmanuel Rosen said. "Yet when
it comes to someone who wishes to
become the chairman of a centrist party
and a prime minister, we would like to
hear something that is a little deeper,
creative and mostly realistic in respect
to dealing with tough regional prob-
If elected the prime minister, Mofaz

would be the first non-Ashkenazi Jew to
hold the post. He lived in Iran until he
was about 10 and spent his first years as
an Israeli at a transit camp for Iranian
Mofaz has made no secret of capital-
izing on his ethnic roots when neces-
sary — his main financial support
reportedly comes from wealthy former
Iranians in Israel, and he has received
the blessings of Sephardic leader Rabbi
Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the
Sephardic-Orthodox Shas Party. But
he has not played the "race card" in his
Mofaz also has taken care to bal-
ance out his more hawkish statements
on Iran with calls for Israel to con-
tinue pursuing peace talks with the
Palestinians, then Syria and other Arab
foes — albeit without rushing things.
"I think it isn't right to allocate a
time limit to complicated processes.
First they have to be given a different
economic reality and we have to renew
trust," he said of the Palestinians in
a recent interview with Israel's daily
Yediot Achronot."I will conduct negotia-
tions with them myself."
"There will be no situation, like now,
in which Israel talks in three voices
— that of Olmert, that of Livni and that
of the Americans. The process with the
Palestinians should be results based. It's
for good reason I was called Mr. Realist.
The Palestinians know me. I will find a
common language with them. They know
that with me, my word is my word."
For the past two years, Mofaz has rep-
resented Israel in regular strategic talks
with the Bush administration. Those
talks have centered on dealing with the
problem of Iran.
Despite his harsh talk on attacking
Iran, Mofaz takes care to distinguish
between the radical regime of Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and
the ayatollahs, and ordinary Iranian
people, of whom Mofaz speaks fondly.
Addressing a Washington audience
last month, Mofaz recalled holding a
telephone discussion with a Tehran taxi
driver during a Persian-language radio
address that was relayed to Iran.
"You were at Entebbe," the cabbie
said, according to Mofaz. "Can't you
come here too and rescue us from the
mullahs?" El

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September 18 • 2008


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