Netanyahu Loads Likud List With Generals for Elections

Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, who two years ago almost faced a party slate without a general after former defense minister Shaul Mofaz left him for Kadima, is now plush with ex top-brass. He has not one, but three generals in pocket.

On the eve of the election, Netanyahu will seek the public's confirmation with at least one former chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, who announced his decision to join Likud on Monday, and two major-generals: Yossi Peled and Uzi Dayan.

Labor used to be the generals' party of choice. But with the resignation of Ami Ayalon, former commander of the Israel Navy, the party has been left with only two ex-military men: Party Chair Ehud Barak, a former Lieutenant General and chief of staff, and his second in command, Major-General (ret.) Matan Vilnai.

Meanwhile, Ya'alon's entry into Likud puts him at an excellent position to become Netanyahu's top choice for defense minister. But Peled and Dayan are vying for the same position - which could ignite a war within Likud ahead of the primary election to determine the party's list of candidates for the 18th Knesset.

This struggle could continue long after the primary, if all three secure high enough seats to preside together in a future cabinet. In that case, they might be fighting for the defense portfolio.

Unlike the 2006 campaign, which focused on a social agenda, the 2009 election - following the failures that were revealed during the Second Lebanon War, the Iranian threat and Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip - will make former officers and security officials sought-after items within the political establishment.

Much like Menachem Begin before the 1977 election - which brought the Revisionist camp to power for the first time - Netanyahu put a lot of effort into recruiting recently-discharged "celebrity" generals in his successful 1996 campaign. Back then, Netanyahu reeled in Yitzhak Mordechai, who stayed in Likud until 1999, when differences of opinion with Netanyahu sent him packing to a centrist party - for which he was never forgiven by senior Likud officials.

Ariel Sharon filled the officer slot with Shaul Mofaz, who had just finished serving as chief of staff. Like Mordechai, Mofaz was considered an asset to Likud not only because of his war record, but because he was Sephardi.

Arguably, Mofaz is rendering Kadima the same sort of service now by occupying that party's space reserved for generals. But Likud has another quasi-security official up its sleeve; former police chief Assaf Hefetz.