Politics: Second fiddlers

'Two can be as bad as one," Three Dog Night sangin their 1969 hit song. "It's the loneliest number since the numberone." The song certainly wasn't written with politicians in mind, butit might as well have been. Case in point: The number two men inKadima, Labor and Likud appear to be nearly as lonely politically asthe number ones in their parties.

MKShaul Mofaz, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog andEducation Minister Gideon Sa'ar are all bright, ambitious and havestrong leadership qualities. They just each have one thing in the way:Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu respectively.

Over the past 10 days, each of the three number twos flexedtheir political muscles in some way, making it clear that they areforces that cannot be ignored in the near future. But they are all indifferent points in their lives and careers, and their strategies forascending to the leadership of their party and the Prime Minister'sOffice could not be more different.

Mofaz escalated his attack on Livni with a rally on Thursdaynight in which he and hundreds of his supporters called for advancingKadima's leadership race. Herzog made news when he publicly blamedBarak for Labor rebel Ophir Paz-Pines quitting the Knesset. And Sa'ar,who had made a point of giving interviews only about education sincethe coalition was formed, noticeably returned to talking aboutdiplomatic issues.

The most overtly ambitious of the three is Mofaz,who at 61 is already running for the leadership of a party for thethird time. He was scarred by his poorly staged shift to Kadima in themidst of his campaign for Likud leader and by his failure toimmediately challenge the questionable results of the September 2008Kadima race.

Mofaz has tried to transform his image as a rightist with adull personality by coming out with a dovish peace plan, smiling moreand getting photographed doing yoga. In what is the dream of anypolitician, he does not have to worry about funding or limiting what hecan say, thanks to rich Persian Jews in the US and his no holds barredstrategy for challenging Livni.

Hisliabilities include that he is not as popular in the general public ashe is in his party, and that after seven years as IDF chief of GeneralStaff and defense minister, he is used to being in charge and hasforgotten how to be subordinate.

"Being number two automatically makes you impatient to benumber one, because you constantly remember that you aren't numberone," a source close to Mofaz said. "His problem is not that he isnumber two. It's that Livni is number one. If the number one in hisparty was an amazing leader or if the party were part of thegovernment, maybe he would have acted differently."

Mofaz's attacks on Livni have become increasingly fierce inrecent days. He blamed her for all the country's woes and vowed to notrest until a date for a rematch against her was advanced from itscurrent date in 2013.

"When I see the damage she did to the country and the party, Ican't sit quietly," he said, never referring to Livni by name. "Shemade wrong decisions at every junction. We could have been a seriousplayer in the government. The state is suffering from Kadima not beingin the coalition, and so is the party. I will push for primaries everyweek until she finally agrees."

Herzog also wants to expedite the leadership race in his party,which is currently set for October 2012. But unlike Mofaz, he hasresisted the temptation to burn bridges.

The Labor rebels continue to court Herzog to lead a split inthe party and out of the coalition. But he has turned them down thusfar, because he believes that Netanyahu genuinely wants to lead a peaceprocess, and because he likes his current job in which he is helpingimprove the lives of the country's most disadvantaged people.

Herzog, 49, turned down a promotion to a more prestigiousportfolio when the government was formed, even though it could haveforestalled his political ascension. Barak's behavior toward hisformerly loyal aide has changed since Herzog won the second spot onLabor's list and presented himself as Barak's heir apparent, a notionfurther emboldened by Pines-Paz leaving the party.

Barak angered Herzog when he tried to pass a new constitutionfor Labor that Herzog considered dictatorial, and when Barak appointedhimself as Labor's representative on the Ministerial Ethics Committeeinstead of Herzog. After multiple scandals erupted that questionedBarak's ethics, Herzog had a hard time remaining silent, but he diduntil Paz-Pines left last week.

"It's up to our generation to determine whether the party has achance to renew itself and stand on its feet again," Herzog said, in adirect challenge to Barak.

That prompted Barak's office to issue a statement criticizingHerzog for the first time, saying that his shift from Paz-Pines criticto defender illustrated that he lacked the traits necessary to lead.

Herzog told The Jerusalem Post this week that he haspleaded with Barak to present a recovery plan for the party thatincludes a date for advancing its leadership race. He said that Barakcannot count on him to remain in the government at any price.

"If I see no peace process develop, I will initiate theinternal party procedures for leaving the coalition," he said. "Thesituation in my party is so disturbing that it haunts me. I believe inLabor's ideology and I still want to give the party a chance. Butpeople tell me that if I wait three years, I might not have a partyleft. We may find ourselves competing in a race over a dead body."

The only one of the three number twos who has not and will notthreaten his party's leader is Sa'ar. At 43, he is the youngest of thethree, and he is a minister for the first time. But sources close tohim said he wants to be prime minister immediately after Netanyahu, andhe might be even more ambitious than Mofaz.

Sa'ar has become very close to the top journalists in theHebrew press, who he regularly updates. Every move he makes has beencalculated politically, including his recent move to the center of thepolitical map, his refusal to condemn the settlement freeze and hisdefense of Netanyahu.

Hestarted off his tenure as education minister with humanizing interviewstogether with his daughters. He has used the job to advance so-calledmotherhood-and-apple-pie issues like Zionism, Hebrew and schooluniforms. Even in his recent return to discussing diplomatic issues, hehas stuck with consensus topics like defending Israel from Americanpressure and questioning the Palestinian leadership's desire for peace.

Sa'ar told the Post thathe did not let winning the second slot on the Likud list get to hishead. He declined to criticize the impatience of Mofaz and Herzog, buthe stressed that he was handling being number two differently.

"The other number twos have declared they want to be numberone," Saar said. "I don't feel that because I got chosen where I didthat I must start working immediately to get one step higher. I amsatisfied with where I am right now."