Mofaz to seek meeting with Obama

Opposition leader aims to build international credentials up to position himself as future prime minister.

Mofaz shakes hands with supporters 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Mofaz shakes hands with supporters 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz intends to take seriously Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s challenge on foreign policy issues and build his international credentials ahead of the next election, sources close to the Kadima head said Wednesday night.
Netanyahu said in a press conference Tuesday that Israel needs a leader that is able to hold his weight in the international arena.
Mofaz’s associates said that criticism could apply to Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, who called herself a candidate for prime minister this week. But they said Netanyahu’s attack could not have been directed at Mofaz, who has diplomatic experience as defense minister and later as the minister in charge of the strategic dialogue with the United States on Iran. They shunned comparisons with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who came to Israel this week to build his foreign policy credentials.
“The key posts Mofaz has held in his career give him a lot to say on foreign policy issues,” a source close to him said. “He believes he will be the next prime minister, so it is important that he meet world leaders and get his views out there.”
To that end, Mofaz is seeking a meeting with US President Barack Obama. He also wants to travel to Ankara to meet with Turkish leaders. According to protocol, as the opposition leader, he will meet with foreign dignitaries who visit Israel.
Mofaz has been a staunch defender of Obama’s policies on Israel. His associates said Mofaz believes the Obama administration’s contributions to Israel are above and beyond what an American president needs to do.
But they said he would be a statesman-like opposition leader, unlike his predecessor Tzipi Livni, who they said crossed traditional red lines in criticizing the prime minister abroad.
“Shaul has a lot of criticism for Netanyahu’s handling of the relationship with the US,” a Mofaz associate said. “When he goes abroad, he will not besmirch [Netanyahu], but he will show that there is an opposition now in Israel and it has a different point of view than the government.”
Mofaz has built up a strong relationship with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who testified before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at Mofaz’s invitation.
Yacimovich is also building up her international credentials, but at a different pace and volume. Since her election as Labor leader in September, she has not left Israel, but she has met many ambassadors and her associates said she is planning a trip abroad in a few months to meet with leaders of other social-democratic parties.
Sources close to Yacimovich downplayed the importance of her building up an international resume. They said she would continue to defer on foreign policy issues to those with more experience internationally such as MK Isaac Herzog, Labor’s de facto foreign minister.
“Obama got elected without experience,” a Labor source said. “She doesn’t think [going abroad] will bring her votes. It would deviate from her message, which is socioeconomic and very important.”