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The members of the Likud Knesset faction - then and now - who came together to mark the 30th anniversary of the Likud's first rise to power, took advantage of the occasion to express their longing for their founder, Menachem Begin.

MK Silvan Shalom said Begin was a prime example, in contrast to this government, that "leadership must come with clean hands, purity of standards and honesty."

"What characterized Begin and what is so lacking in this country," said MK Yuval Steinitz, "is leadership with backbone." MK Gideon Sa'ar said "today's leadership is not leadership." MK Michael Eitan said "Begin's greatness was that he tried to do the impossible and be both a good politician and a human being."

Thus, the group that might constitute the next leadership of Israel drew the outlines of the characteristics necessary for leadership. When they were asked why leadership is lacking, Steinitz answered, "Today it is more difficult."

Outstanding in its absence was a speech by former Knesset speaker MK Reuven Rivlin. He was present, but did not speak. The race for the presidency apparently requires him to exercise caution not to insult or anger anyone. Also missing (obviously) was the former Likud MK who is now prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

The meeting, which took place at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, was also the opportunity to reminisce, especially about where those present were on May 17, 1977.

Limor Livnat said she volunteered to work the chalkboard that night so she would be allowed into headquarters. During the night, she chalked up the thrilling results that flowed in from the polls. Sa'ar said he remembered that night very well, though he was only 10 years old.

Yuval Steinitz, a former leftist, admitted that he had voted for the Democratic Movement for Change (Dash), but Likud chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu granted him absolution since he had mended his ways.

Netanyahu discussed events in Sderot, proposing a varied menu of actions from "stopping services like electricity and water in a controlled manner to bringing in limited ground forces to areas of rocket launches, to a distance of four to five kilometers."

Netanyahu also said that "paralysis and helplessness must pass from the world." How is that connected to Begin? Begin, according to Netanyahu, understood that the prime obligation of the government to its citizens is to protect their lives.

The result of this understanding, the head of the opposition al so noted, was "first and foremost the blowing up of the nuclear reactor in Iraq.

Begin acted with great daring against international opinion and against the United States." Silvan Shalom said he thought blowing up the Iraqi nuclear reactor was Begin's most important act.

Was there a feeling around the table of missing the blowing up of nuclear plants?

Netanyahu: "No, but admiration for what was done."