Middle Israel: Olmert's unworthy challenger

It's absurd that with his record of moral duplicity and political virginity, Shaul Mofaz still thinks he can be PM.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
On the face of it, Shaul Mofaz - Ehud Olmert's most fueled, ambitious and audacious rival within his own faction - is a rebel with a cause. Having previously led the IDF's successful war on terror, the former defense minister and chief of General Staff was understandably frustrated when Olmert ignored his sound advice to attack Hizbullah on the ground and from the rear. Moreover, with all due respect to the Winograd Report's celebration of Olmert's impartiality, many of us still suspect that in ignoring Mofaz the PM was thinking less about military imperatives and more about political constraints - in that case, Amir Peretz's concern that his predecessor might overshadow him. Considering that several months before the war Mofaz was asked to vacate the Defense Ministry and make way for Peretz, it is natural that he would feel vindicated in the wake of the inconclusive war that followed his removal. Olmert, Peretz and Dan Halutz mismanaged the war, he told Channel 2's Meet the Press. Had Mofaz been there, we are supposed to conclude, the whole picture would have changed. And that's where this aspiring prime minister loses us - for militarily he has no case, politically he has no idea and morally he has no shame. AS A MILITARY leader, the unsung paratrooper rose to command the IDF against all predictions, when then-defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai chose him over the shoe-in candidate, deputy chief of General Staff Matan Vilna'i. Whether justly or not, the appointment was widely seen as ethnically driven, since the Kurdish-born Mordechai and the Iranian-born Mofaz represented, if even passively, the country's social periphery, while Vilna'i, son of popular geographer Ze'ev Vilna'i, represented the pre-state Ashkenazi elite. Fortunately for all of us, Mofaz's appointment proved sound, judging by the way he and the IDF functioned once finally authorized to counterattack in spring '02. Moreover, judging by Vilna'i's subsequent performance as a politician, there is little reason to believe he would have been any better than Mofaz as chief of General Staff. Alas, as Ariel Sharon's defense minister, Mofaz made two crucial contributions to what happened in summer '06. First, he presided over the system that failed to prepare for an all-out attack on Hizbullah. Second, Halutz, a scandalous choice as chief of General Staff, whose performance is now rightly lambasted by Mofaz, was appointed by defense minister Mofaz. True, Mofaz wasn't alone in the utterly ill-conceived appointment of this pilot as commander of the ground forces in which Halutz never even served as a private; Sharon was also there, apparently hoping to run the army himself, the sweetest revenge he could exact from the lefties who - as he saw it - once torpedoed his appointment as IDF commander, and then had him fired as defense minister. Then again, Mofaz was in this no less than Sharon. Not, of course, because of his and Halutz's shared Iranian roots, but because Mofaz wanted the IDF led by his own appointee, and not his predecessor's. Either way, the bottom line of all this was the preposterous, and unprecedented, removal of Moshe Ya'alon, by far one of the most original, effective and modest commanders the IDF ever had. Back then this move was excused by Ya'alon's opposition to the disengagement plan. Why? Was there any reason to doubt that Ya'alon would obey orders? Didn't Mofaz himself, as chief of General Staff in 2000, execute the retreat from Lebanon despite his opposition to it? One wonders which was more criminal: removing Ya'alon or installing Halutz. But worse than both the crimes put together is Mofaz's refusal to acknowledge the consequences of that appointment. Mofaz wants Olmert to assume responsibility for the war's mismanagement. Don't we all? Well this very value demands that Mofaz assume his own responsibility for Halutz's appointment, an ill-conceived choice which clearly played a major, and possibly crucial, role in an ill-fated war. MOFAZ'S ARRIVAL in the political arena has been a failure regardless of all this immorality. Evidently, the way he sees politics, it is a sort of bordello where anyone is welcome and anything goes, even the most transparent pretending and brazen lies. Otherwise there is no explaining his initial decision to stay in the Likud. Back then he thought he could wrest it from Binyamin Netanyahu, claiming it was his home. Yet several days later when polls indicated Bibi would defeat him hands down, he suddenly realized the Likud was going too far to the Right. So he joined Kadima. Never mind that no one believed him at the time; his postwar conduct shows he has no idea about what the public is prepared to absorb. Politically, the problem is not Mofaz the person, but the phenomenon. A man who entered politics the morning after his discharge from the military, installed by someone else in the thick of its fray, cannot claim to know politics. This man was never in the business of civilian policymaking or electoral campaigning when he was already sitting in the smallest forums where the fate of billions of taxpayer shekels was decided. This is no way to develop a political career; even Eisenhower and de Gaulle took no such shortcuts, and Mofaz is no de Gaulle; heck, he is not even Sharon, Rabin, Dayan or for that matter Effi Eitam, all of whom, despite being retired generals, had something smart, knowledgeable and occasionally even original, to say about civilian life. Mofaz has none of that. His attempt to impress the public - by comparing Netanyahu's "silver-spoon upbringing" with his own childhood recollections of being raised on thick slices of bread with thin layers of chocolate spread - could hardly have been more anachronistic, in a country where the proletariat has long ceased to win elections. To be more convincing on that subject, Mofaz would have had to present an economic vision, one that would demonstrate how he would make the state either earn more or spend less. There is no indication this ever crossed his mind. It's just absurd that with his record of moral duplicity and political virginity, Shaul Mofaz still thinks he can be prime minister of the Jewish state. Mofaz is named after the first king of the Israelites, about whom historian Leopold Ranke said that he was history's first tragic figure. King Saul, as this column has noted in the past, brings to mind much of what has been both tragic and noble about Israeli leadership, from Yitzhak Rabin's aftermath to the late chief of General Staff Moshe Levy's modesty. But there was another side to Saul - the pathetic face of a depressant hopelessly craving for the lost power of an able general who refused to accept his unsuitability for leadership of the nation. In this, he resembles Mofaz.