Mofaz's Missed Opportunity

Mofaz never forgave Netanyahu for behaving as if his arm had been twisted and preferring Matan Vilnai over him.

Benjamin Netanyahu is the punch bag of the 2006 elections. There's a reverse correlation between how well one knows Netanyahu and supporting him: The more the Israeli public knows him - from the elections in 1996 and 1999, to the present - the more his support declines.

A few months after he won the premiership in 1996, Yitzhak Shamir spoke harshly against Netanyahu - but not on record. A journalist begged him to let his views be known. "It's too soon," said Shamir, "but you can say that I can't stand Ehud Barak because he reminds me of Netanyahu."

In a similar fashion, ahead of the formation of their joint government after the elections, Amir Peretz is now attacking Ariel Sharon for his one sin of agreeing with his finance minister.

Another of those attacking Netanyahu is one of his rivals for the Likud leadership, Shaul Mofaz. In 1998, Netanyahu gave in to pressure from Yitzhak Mordechai to name Mofaz as defense minister. Mofaz never forgave Netanyahu for behaving as if his arm had been twisted and preferring Matan Vilnai over him. But because of a temporary convergence of convenience for them both, they aligned for a while, with Netanyahu taking pride in Mofaz's ethnic background. But the hostility runs deeper, all the way to "silver spoon" and "the spoiled rich kid from Jerusalem."

Netanyahu earned the attacks on his character, but in the repetitive chorus of the tale of the prince and the cobbler, the problem is Mofaz's, who sounds like he really believes his own propaganda - Mofaz against Vilnai, Mofaz against Uzi Dayan, Mofaz against Moshe Ya'alon, and now Mofaz against Netanyahu. The eternally oppressed has entered a race against those who got an early start, the stronger side, the Ashkenazis. It's the south versus the north, east against west, those who succeeded by will against those who were spoiled, with the message that he will yet overcome.

Ariel Sharon used to be like that, complaining about those evil moshav residents from Kfar Malal who picked on the lonely Sharon family. The ploy is a failure: It can evoke pity, not support, and a popular desire to send the poor fellow for treatment, not to the Prime Minister's Office, because leadership is not achieved by crying. Only after he stopped moaning about his difficult childhood did Sharon succeed - twice; and if he is elected again, he will have succeeded more than any of his predecessors since David Ben-Gurion.

Menachem Begin is the last to have won twice, and Shamir the last who came to an election (in 1998) from the premiership and won it.

When a political opportunity winks, Mofaz is blinded, bumps into a memory and trips. It happened to him in the fall of 2002, when over-excited about getting the Defense Ministry appointment, he became confused and forgot exactly when he left the army, until 12 members of the Supreme Court had to remind him. Disruptions in his memory of the past are once again assaulting him, after three years in which he did not change a thing in the structure of the Defense Ministry - decaying, wasteful and paralyzed from fear of quarrels with its unions.

Mofaz's misery since childhood is a sincere feeling, but its factual basis is shaky, relatively, if not absolutely. Yes, he was poor. He arrived from Iran at the age of nine, in 1957, and remembers poverty in his childhood. But in the early 1950s, many grew up in similar conditions, and remember poverty in their childhoods. Among those was Moshe Dayan, who grew up in a house with a dirt floor. At the end of the 1950s and the early 1960s the children of Eilat came from working class families, or were the children of the small businessmen of the town. There were no rich kids in Eilat in those days. Mofaz went far and could be proud of it. Instead of being bitter about the past, he could take pride in an Israel that allows someone who invested 39 years in the army and politics to attain a reasonable standard of living and more, and to achieve positions of the highest level.

The other question is his performance in these roles. Amazingly, because of budgetary problems, Mofaz preferred the unemployment of the weak - NCOs and junior officers - in the name of more efficient use of resources that became available. In that sense, he in effect became the Netanyahu of the army.