Mofaz Sets His Sights High

A mistake or two by Netanyahu, such as his withdrawn ultimatum regarding the referendum over disengagement, is all that separates Shaul Mofaz from a victory in the next battle for the leadership of the Likud and the premiership.

It is possible that the next government, the disengagement government, which people mistakenly insist on calling a "unity government," will be the last government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. On the assumption that the new government is intact when it reaches the elections in November 2006, when the next Knesset completes its term, Sharon will be 82 years old. The prime minister himself generally says that he has taken it upon himself to disengage Israel from the Gaza Strip, and that he is leaving the challenge of the final status agreement to the next generation of leaders. The evacuation of a few thousand settlers from Gush Katif and from the northern part of the West Bank is only a preliminary to the withdrawal from most of the territory of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. After the disengagement plan pushed the Labor Party into the back seat, it is reasonable to assume that this important and difficult task will devolve partly on the next leader of the Likud.

The prevailing opinion in recent years is that anyone who doesn't want Sharon will get Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, according to public opinion polls, a mistake or two by Netanyahu, such as his withdrawn ultimatum regarding the referendum over disengagement, is all that separates Shaul Mofaz from a victory in the next battle for the leadership of the Likud and the premiership. On the eve of the last elections, the High Court of Justice managed to stop the general, who was in a rush to get into the Knesset, and forced him to make do with the cabinet. Now Mofaz is already a full-blown party activist. He has his own "camp," and his own "candle-lighting ceremony," and an emotional "Likud now and forever" speech. If everything goes as planned, next Rosh Hashanah he will already be inviting his friends to drink a toast at the Fair Grounds in Tel Aviv. Just like Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Health Minister Danny Naveh.

When Major General (res.) Ami Ayalon, who became a civilian over four years ago, expressed interest in becoming prime minister, it was claimed that he was rushing from the army into politics. Lieutenant General (res.) Mofaz cooled off for barely one winter out of uniform before entering the Defense Ministry and registering for the Likud, and he is already storming the Prime Minister's Office and galloping ahead in the polls. It is difficult to understand why Mofaz is enjoying special treatment, and not only from the right wing. Why did Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon alone bear the criticism for the epidemic of harming innocent Palestinian citizens, the "confirmed killing," abuse of dead bodies and humiliation at the checkpoints?

Mofaz always remains untouched, as though the concept of "ministerial responsibility" has nothing to do with him. The defense minister is not called to account for the expansion of the outposts located within his area of jurisdiction, nor for the uprooting of thousands of olive trees and theft under the noses of Israel Defense Forces commanders. He didn't find it necessary to apologize for the scandalous planning of the route of the separation fence, which caused Israel a great deal of political and economic damage, and dealt a mortal wound to the fabric of life of thousands of Palestinians. According to his recorded whisper into Sharon's ears, had it been up to Mofaz, instead of force majeure quietly removing late Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat from the area, an IDF would have been sent to the Muqata, and the territories would have been burning.

Until it became clear that Sharon is determined to pass the disengagement plan, and that most of the public stands behind him, Defense Minister Mofaz openly opposed IDF withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Lieutenant General Mofaz did the same on the eve of the withdrawal from Lebanon, and at the height of the negotiations over the Camp David 2 accord, and the Clinton proposal. Regarding Mofaz's contribution to igniting the territories - Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was foreign minister at the time, wrote that then minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who coordinated the effort to achieve a cease-fire at the start of the intifada, expressed fury at the fact that the army under Mofaz's command "was conducting on the ground an entirely different war from the one ordered by the political echelon" ("A Front Without a Rearguard: Voyage to the Boundaries of the Peace Process," published in Hebrew by Yedioth Ahronoth).

Ben-Ami testifies that "the IDF operated in this crisis according to its own ideals ... which in the final analysis led to an expansion of the cycle of violence." The distorted image of a soft-spoken general among belligerent political activists is placing in the front ranks a person who sees the world through the gun sight - just when there is a special need for a statesman with broad horizons.