Analysis: Mr. Underestimated strikes again

In short, Mofaz has been underestimated again. He is used to it.

Smiling Shaul Mofaz wins Kadima primary 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
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.
International 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 worldwide.
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.
In 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 party.
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 peace.
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 following.
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 immediately.
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 Iranian one.
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 Netanyahu.
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.