Analysis / Mofaz Comes in Through the Window, Then Leaves Home'

There were plenty of comic moments during Shaul Mofaz's press conference in Tel Aviv yesterday: His entry through a window; his robotic adherence to prepared messages regardless of what he was asked; his exit through that same window.

But the highlight was when he was presented with the letter that he sent over the weekend to some 130,000 Likud members, in which he promised never to leave his "home." That letter, he was told, had been written only five days earlier! "Ten days," he responded. "There were corrections and proofreading."

During those 10 days, Mofaz suddenly discovered that the "Feiglins" had conquered the Likud; that Benjamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau were pulling it rightward; that the "rebels," who opposed the disengagement, controlled the party. Somehow none of this was known to him three weeks ago, when Ariel Sharon left the Likud and urged him to join him. Only last Saturday night did it suddenly strike him.

His political conduct in recent weeks has been hapless. Someone advised him to attack Sharon at every opportunity. In doing so, he drove away Sharon's supporters in the Likud. And the moment he began prattling to the media, he turned from a serious and professional defense minister into another politician.

But the problem was not just Mofaz; it was also Sharon and his enormous appetite. Three hours before Mofaz telephoned Sharon on Saturday night, one of Sharon's associates said that Kadima would not accept any more new members. "Enough already!" he declared. But that was his opinion. His boss thought otherwise.

Sharon wants to destroy the Likud. To rip it to shreds. Until not even a scrap remains. His resentment against the party he established knows no bounds.

Mofaz's desertion overturned another stone in the Likud. From now on, it is the party of the "rebels" (other than Silvan Shalom and Michael Eitan), and that is exactly what Sharon wants. To push the Likud into an extremist corner. To return it to the days of Menachem Begin's Herut, which was a marginal party, a laughingstock. And Sharon is moving toward this goal like a bulldozer - without worrying about the environment.

One of the Monty Python skits involves an enormously fat man sitting in a restaurant and guzzling huge quantities of food. Afterward, as he sits panting in his chair, the waiter comes with a tray bearing a tiny mint and asks him whether he wants it for dessert.

No thank you, the customer responds, I can't. But the waiter presses him, and he finally agrees. He puts the mint in his mouth and explodes.

Is Mofaz Sharon's mint? Apparently not. But Sharon needs to learn some table manners. It is not a tragedy if he leaves something on the plate.

A year ago, in a private conversation, Mofaz said he was interested in only two positions: defense minister and prime minister. When he understood that he would not be prime minister on behalf of the Likud, he went with the second option. Just like that - with no apologies, no regrets. Sharon's associates stressed that Mofaz has been given no promises regarding the next government; only that he will remain defense minister in the current government. But it is hard to see Sharon removing him from the Defense Ministry after the elections. If Kadima retains this portfolio, Mofaz will probably remain.

Meanwhile, the big winner in the Likud from Mofaz's departure is Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Mofaz's backers will switch their support to him, and even if he loses to Netanyahu next Monday, he will be, for the first time in his life, No. 2 on the Likud list. Yesterday, Shalom started gathering up the spoils - even if they are only crumbs.