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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Anyone who has seen Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni at an open political event, surrounded by hundreds of rank-and-file party members, can be quite certain from the look on her face that she would prefer having three teeth taken out without painkillers.
Livni was never the kind of politician to roll up her sleeves and fight. Instead she relied on her "princess" quality to propel her upwards - she always had the right patron to appoint her to the next job.
Now she has finally reached the rung of the ladder from which no one is going to pull her up. At this stage it's up to her.
Even if she wasn't up the whole night reading the Winograd report - as Ehud Olmert was, judging from his exhausted face Tuesday morning - she should still have had enough time by now to finish it and absorb the implications. But Livni was still silent, the most senior cabinet minister yet to comment on the earth-shattering report.
Perhaps she's trying to get her timing right, and we'll finally hear what she has to say in Wednesday's cabinet meeting or Thursday's Kadima faction gathering. But if she waits much longer, she might lose her opportunity.
Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki, who is trying to convince Kadima MKs to replace the prime minister, isn't going to hand Livni the job on a silver platter. He is chiefly interested in removing Olmert, and if he believes he has a more determined candidate than Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz for example, he won't think twice.
For Livni this is her political career's moment of truth. If she doesn't speak out within the next 24 hours, her potential supporters might interpret her silence as a sign that she simply has nothing to say.
Meanwhile, another prime minister in waiting, who has yet to be heard since the Winograd report's release, is Binyamin Netanyahu.
Instead of rejoicing at the downfall of his rival, Netanyahu is faced again with a wave of hostility. An anti-Bibi front has been set up in the Knesset. Its members are prepared to do almost anything, even give Olmert some breathing space, rather than take the slightest risk of seeing Netanyahu back in power. He realizes that if he is ever to return to the Prime Minister's Office, he will have to overcome this animosity.
That's why Netanyahu isn't rushing to take advantage of the report's damning verdict. He doesn't want anyone to blame him for acting with glee over a national calamity, and therefore will carefully measure his reaction to the report to look like a responsible statesman, not just another politician after Olmert's job.
The third sphinx is Ehud Barak, though he's been keeping quiet for a few months. Barak's strategy in the Labor leadership campaign has been to say a word to the media, traveling instead around the country and meeting small groups of party members.
This silent treatment works well for him right now in Winograd's aftermath. As a former chief of General Staff and prime minister, and as a leading candidate to become the next defense minister, Barak should be offering his opinion on such a crucial report on national security. On the other hand, Olmert is an old and loyal friend and Barak was really looking forward to sitting with him in the cabinet and overshadowing him.
Now everything has changed, Olmert's future is uncertain, to say the least, and Barak will have to change his game plan to win the May 28 primary, his first step on the way back to the top job.
For the three sphinxes - Livni, Netanyahu and Barak - the decision as to when to break their silence over Winograd and Olmert may be fateful.
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