To grasp the extent to which Shaul Mofaz's appointment as defense minister is misbegotten, one might consider Ariel Sharon's own words. After he was elected prime minister, Sharon said on more than one occasion that he sees things differently in his new post. He meant that the viewpoint of a leader entrusted with supreme responsibility for the welfare of the state is not the same as that of an Israel Defense Forces battalion commander or regional commander, or even of the defense minister. Whether Sharon has made such pronouncements as lip service designed to extricate himself from passing political muddles is a question in its own right; the statements, in any case, emphasize the fundamental importance of experience accumulated by a public figure before he grasps the reins of state power.
Shaul Mofaz lacks public-civil experience. He served as a soldier throughout his entire adult life; his perception of reality stems from this prolonged military role. Some army men moved directly to political posts when they were discharged (Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizman, Ehud Barak, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Yitzhak Mordechai, Matan Vilnai), but none of these figures leapfrogged from the IDF General Staff to the defense minister post. Those who eventually took the defense portfolio first served at less sensitive cabinet posts (even Yitzhak Mordechai labored for a year in politics as a Likud member before taking the defense portfolio). These preparatory roles enabled the political newcomers to get a feel for civilian rules of power, norms unlike the army's chain of command. Mofaz lacks such training, and his inexperience is liable to prove costly to himself, and the state.
Other statements made by Sharon can be scrutinized, as a way of underscoring the dubious merits of the Mofaz appointment. After his election as prime minister, Sharon took a close look at the IDF under chief of staff Mofaz's leadership, and made no secret of his disappointment. He decided that the IDF is a clumsy, rusting, unimaginative and listless army. Sharon expressed his frustration in meetings with top IDF commanders, and with defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. Sharon's criticism was leaked to the public, and the prime minister rushed to release a public statement praising the IDF, but nobody was duped into believing that the applause was honest. The IDF did not match the prime minister's expectations during Mofaz's term. This being Sharon's view, he will find it difficult to convince the public that his candidate for the defense portfolio is a perfect choice.
Another way of grasping the danger posed by Mofaz's appointment is to recall Sharon's behavior in the days when he served as defense minister. The scope of the war in Lebanon resulted from an understanding forged between Sharon and the top IDF command right under the government's nose. This link was made because there were not enough strong-willed people sitting in the cabinet, and because the IDF lacked top officers who dared to challenge the defense minister's mode of operation. The system of checks and balances needed for a sound decision-making process depends upon the presence of a defense minister who has independent opinions and political power. This is generally the case; it is doubly true when Sharon is prime minister. The necessary tools, however, are out of Mofaz's reach: his appointment depends entirely on Sharon, and his ability to disagree with the prime minister's views is nil.
Within the Likud and the other parties remaining in the coalition, there is a sufficient array of figures who have proven ministerial experience, and who might serve as defense minister in the narrow government which Sharon wants to form. The prime minister prefers Mofaz, a total neophyte in political life, since considerations of personal advantage, not state interests, motivate him: Sharon reasons that the Mofaz appointment would improve his chances of winning Likud's top spot in impending primaries. That is an unacceptable calculation which the public must not accept.
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