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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni told an audience at the College of Management in Rishon Lezion on Tuesday she "did not care" who was given credit for the successes of Operation Cast Lead, but she insisted that she had improved Israel's diplomatic standing during the war.
Polls have shown that since the offensive began, the Labor Party has doubled its support, some of it at Kadima's expense, and that while Defense Minister Ehud Barak's popularity has skyrocketed, Livni's has remained the same. Livni made an effort in the speech to emphasize her positive contribution to the operation.
"I complained to foreign ministers around the world about the [arms] smuggling into Gaza," she said. "Because of this, the world is now involved on this issue. I'm not putting our security in Egyptian or international hands, but the fact that Egypt, the US and Europe have realized that Iran is the supplier and must be stopped is very important. For the first time, there is an understanding internationally that smuggling weapons is like shooting, that it is a threat to Israel and we have a right to defend ourselves."
Livni made a point of speaking in first person, especially when talking about military operations, in which she was part of the decision-making triumvirate but her role has not been acknowledged.
"I sent Gilad Schalit," she said, responding to a student asking about his fate. "Not personally, but he is an IDF soldier. We sent him to defend the country and we have an obligation to bring him back. If Hamas thinks they want to get something beyond humanitarian assistance, which we will give anyway, we have someone who is very important to us, and one thing depends on the other for me."
Criticizing Barak's support for a proposed humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza three days into the operation, Livni said she decided that a ground campaign was necessary to restore Israel's deterrence against Hamas.
The Labor Party responded by accusing Livni and Kadima of trying to mislead the public and rewrite history. Labor officials said they did not believe Livni would succeed in taking away the support that Labor has gained since the war began.
"Livni is under pressure because the public understands very well who led the operation in the South so successfully," a Labor campaign spokesman said.
Likud officials declined to respond to Livni's statements, saying that they preferred to allow Kadima and Labor to fight amongst themselves.
Livni also did not spare criticism for her Likud competition. She accused Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu of populism for supporting continuing the operation in the Gaza Strip.
"There was a public call to continue more and more, but when I felt we won and achieved our goals, I stopped the operation," Livni said.
"Decision-makers could be tempted to continue. But it's important to know when to stop and not to continue despite the public sentiment."
Livni responded to Netanyahu's new slogan that he is "strong on security and on the economy." She emphasized her economic experience as the head of the Government Companies Authority and accused Netanyahu of going too far with cutbacks when he was finance minister. She warned that the country would be worse off diplomatically with Netanyahu in power.
"If Israel has a government with no diplomatic initiative, we will be isolated," Livni said. "Anyone who thought Israel receives international support only when it has been hit should look at what happened over the past two weeks. The world's backing only comes if you work right. It's nice to say you're strong, but you have to also be smart."
Livni blasted Netanyahu for avoiding a debate, calling his behavior "shameful" and "anti-democratic."
She said she was jealous of the pomp and circumstance that she saw in her weekend visit to Washington ahead of the inauguration of US president Barack Obama.
"I wish Obama well, because as the leader of the free world that Israel is a part of, his success is our success," Livni said. "I hope that on February 11, there will be the same spirit of change here. I want people here to also feel the day after the election that they have power and hope."