'Barak interfering in Kadima primary'

Contenders Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz both accuse Labor leader of helping the other candidate.

barak 224.88 (photo credit:)
barak 224.88
(photo credit: )
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who initiated the Kadima leadership race by insisting that the party replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, became further embroiled in the race when he made controversial comments on Sunday. Barak, the Labor Party chairman, told Channel 10 that Israel needed a prime minister with security experience and suggested that such a lesson should have been learned from the failures of the Second Lebanon War, when Israel was led by both a prime minister and defense minister without significant military experience, Olmert and Amir Peretz. "There could be a prime minister without a security background, but it is neither wise nor correct," Barak said. "Just like swimmers don't go to the Olympics if they are not qualified, Israel's prime minister is a sensitive position that requires a massive amount of experience, including on security issues, in which crucial decisions must often be made rapidly and sometimes by the prime minister almost alone. We saw just two years ago the fruit of inexperience and the decisions made then are being judged now." The interviewers immediately asked Barak if what he said constituted an endorsement of Kadima leadership candidate Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and chief of the IDF General Staff. Barak said he was speaking generally. A source close to Barak said later that he was obviously referring to himself. "What experience does Mofaz have?" the source asked. "Preparing the country in the poor way he did for the Second Lebanon War?" Mofaz's associates responded that what Barak said was clear to everyone and that Israel required a prime minister with a security background. But they said that Barak making such comments could ultimately hurt Mofaz, because it looked like he was interfering in the internal Kadima race. Livni and her advisers have been hinting for two weeks that Labor and Likud officials were intervening in the Kadima race to help Mofaz win, because they were afraid of her electoral power. "There are parties that are involved inside Kadima's primary out of an interest in weakening the party and making it smaller," Livni told the Kadima faction last week. Mofaz's associates accused Livni of issuing such "spin" to distract the public from matters of policy. They suggested that Barak played into the hands of Livni's spin campaign. Livni's advisers said Barak's comments could be interpreted in many different ways and that he did not necessarily refer to Mofaz. "There are many security experts, but when it comes to handling matters of security, what is necessary is good judgment," a Livni adviser said. A source close to Barak mocked Livni, saying, "We all know about her expertise dealing with security issues" and reminding her that the primary would not have taken place if it were not for the political moves of Barak. Barak said he did not regret initiating Olmert's ouster, even if it would result in an early election. He said he would prefer that a "very wide national emergency government be formed," but if not, he would prepare Labor for a general election. Meanwhile, Mofaz and Livni will continue to compete over endorsements on Monday. Most of Kadima's 29 MKs have said that they will reveal whom they support this week. Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim called a press conference for Monday morning in which he is expected to endorse Mofaz, whom he served under as deputy defense minister. But officials close to Boim and Mofaz declined to confirm whom Boim would be endorsing. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.