The race between Shaul Mofaz and Tzipi Livni over the right to form the next government invites awkward parallels: Mofaz is from Mars, Livni is from Venus; he is Barack Obama, she is Hillary Clinton. The amount of truth in these equations is as meager as the truth in Mofaz's declaration back in 2002, when he tried to bypass a law requiring defense officials to undergo a cooling-off period before running for Knesset. He said that he had been discharged from the Israel Defense Forces on July 31 rather than on August 11. In effect, this is a duel between a candidate who has already received and wasted an opportunity to bring about change and a candidate who is no less talented than he and surpasses him as an exemplar of values, with the exception of her utilitarian nostalgia for Ariel Sharon's problematic legacy. In any case, the balance of power will force whoever is elected to be first among equals rather than a supreme leader.
Mofaz hopped from one party to another, and from the status of commander to that of a party recruiter. The transportation minister is currently leading in the polls among registered voters of Kadima, the party that in no way differs from its two neighbors on the right and left, Likud and Labor. It is certainly possible that he will shut the door of the prime minister's private office, closet himself with military secretary Meir Kalifi - who was commander of the Hebron Brigade and shared a defense attorney (Dov Weissglas) with him during the probe of the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs - and burst into incredulous laughter: We did it. Even if he is Livni's number two, he may have enough power to demand the Defense Ministry again and push Ehud Barak into the position he once filled in Shimon Peres' government - foreign minister.
Among the general public, Livni has a substantial edge. But the public has very little influence, and that only indirectly. This summer, thousands of momentary Kadima voters will elect the candidate to form Israel's government - voters whose motives are selfish (jobs in the transportation industry) or even ethnic. The perfect example of the person who is liable to decide who will succeed Ehud Olmert can be found in the foreman at Haifa Port, who is of Iranian descent.
Mofaz's security record is mixed. He was a highly regarded fighter, an outstanding brigade commander of the Paratroops, and a nondescript division commander on both the Lebanese border and the West Bank. There have been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of officers and generals like him in the history of the IDF. He was appointed chief of staff on a whim by Yitzhak Mordechai and defense minister by the grace of Sharon. Under his command, the IDF did a good job of severing contact with Lebanon, but he failed to prevent the kidnapping on Har Dov in 2000, mishandled the clashes at Joseph's Tomb and was unable to stop Palestinian terror attacks, until in the end he reversed that failure in Operation Defensive Shield.
Together with Sharon, Mofaz is responsible for serious mistakes in evacuating the IDF, and not only the settlers, from Gaza. The insufficient preparedness of both the field forces and the home front in the 2006 war is largely his responsibility. Mofaz's weighted grade in six years as chief of staff and defense minister is hardly awe-inspiring. He is a technician who lacks inspiration, a person who carries out the instructions of his superiors. His light is hidden. Salvation for Israel will not come from him.
Nor will it come from Livni, or from any other individual candidate for the stained crown of leadership. Livni is stronger on the major issue of worldview than on the petty issue of managing people. She can be proud of her involvement in decision-making on issues of national security - alongside Olmert and the defense minister who fell in love with him to the point of absurdity, Amir Peretz (and after him Barak) - but less so of her performance in the Foreign Ministry, which she has not advanced.
Livni dismantled the ministry's efficient administration and erred in bringing in a director general who was unfamiliar with the foreign service and diplomatic work. All in all, the Foreign Ministry gives her sufficient professional qualifications to proceed to the premiership - certainly no less than Yitzhak Shamir had in his day, and far more than Benjamin Netanyahu did. But her recruitment of Sharon's advisers, which is supposed to help her in the party that he founded, does not bode well for those among the public who do not believe that Sharon had cleaner hands than Olmert.
If there is an interim solution to Israel's problems during the period of disengagement from the Olmert government, it does not lie in worshiping any supreme leader. Between "Obamacain," the next president in Washington, and the anatomical wonder of Shas - one man with a dozen hands to raise - the route is already more or less determined. There are no gods: not Livni, not Barak, not Netanyahu, not Mofaz. What is needed is a team that knows how to rise above personal considerations and operate with good judgment and integrity. That may be too much to ask of politicians, but we must not be satisfied with less.
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