Smiling Shaul Mofaz wins Kadima primary 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
When Amram Mitzna was elected leader of the Labor Party nearly a decade ago, he
was immediately lavished with praise around the world.
leaders called him with congratulations and invited him to their capitals. BBC,
CNN and Sky News broadcast fawning profiles of him, declaring him the new face
of hope for peace in the Middle East. Mitzna immediately became a household name
Fast forward almost 10 years. MK Shaul Mofaz won the
chairmanship of Kadima
, Israel’s largest party, by a landslide, defeating
incumbent Tzipi Livni by nearly 25 percent.
Mofaz’s spokesman said world
leaders “had not yet gotten around to calling.” BBC’s Jerusalem bureau
said there was no interest in the story in London. And chances are children in
Myanmar, Mauritania and Mauritius still have never heard of Mofaz.
short, Mofaz has been underestimated again. He is used to it.
No one gave much chance to the poor child who immigrated to Israel from Iran at
age nine to rise through the ranks of the IDF. Until the day his appointment was
announced, no one expected him to become IDF chief of staff, bypassing consensus
candidate Matan Vilna’i.
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to
appoint Mofaz defense minister straight out of the army took the political
establishment by surprise. And when he abruptly left a Likud leadership
race and joined Kadima, few would have thought he would one day lead the
Now almost no one thinks he will be the next prime minister. And
fewer still believe he will be the one who advances Middle East
Starting Wednesday at 2 a.m. when results of the race were
announced, Mofaz’s effort to disprove those people began.
When it comes
to internal Israeli politics, Netanyahu is taking him very
seriously. Sources close to the prime minister said he wanted Livni to
win because he was concerned that Mofaz could attract a
Regarding international geopolitics, US President Barack Obama
and other top Washington officials are acquainted with Mofaz’s diplomatic plan,
which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in temporary borders.
In the plan, Mofaz expressed willingness to withdraw from much of the West Bank
As the new de facto leader of the peace camp, Mofaz’s plan
suddenly becomes very relevant. Having a new leader will make it easier for that
camp to be heard. That is true not only on the Palestinian front but also on the
When Mofaz criticizes Netanyahu’s handling of the Iran
situation, it gets taken seriously because of his security
credentials. Netanyahu’s associates said they could not mock Mofaz the
way they did Livni in the last general election by asking what he would do if he
got the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call.
Right now Mofaz is committed
to staying out of Netanyahu’s coalition.
But in the next government he
could play a central role and have a moderating presence. That is something
Livni could not have done because of the animosity between her and
Returning to the Defense Ministry or becoming foreign minister
could be a stepping stone for Mofaz to move ahead politically and eventually
become a serious prime ministerial candidate.
If that happens, perhaps
world leaders will call, foreign media will report, his name will be known, and
Mr. Underestimated will strike again.