Dichter Joins Kadima Race, Fires Opening Salvos at Mofaz, Livni

MK Tzachi Hanegbi, considered one of Kadima's most influential figures, backs Livni for party head.

Formally throwing his hat into the ring for the Kadima party primary, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter on Tuesday slammed frontrunners Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz.

"I won't rain verbal bombs on Iran and cause oil prices to spike, and I won't ignore the road map for peace, and I won't search for irresponsible solutions in the form of shelf agreements with the Palestinians," Dichter said, speaking at a campaign rally in Herzliya. A large photo of Kadima founder Ariel Sharon was directly behind the podium.

The former Shin Bet head, who was brought into Kadima by Sharon, said he joined the party because he connected with Sharon's vision of creating a new type of politics. However, since Sharon left the political stage, he has asked himself where that vision went.

"Did we join the party to be witnesses to the kind of campaign being conducted before our eyes, a campaign of posters, without substance or content?" Dichter asked supporters.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, MK Tzachi Hanegbi, considered one of the most influential figures in Kadima, announced his support for Livni.

"Tzipi Livni, like Sharon in his days, stands for an ideology that maintains that best interest of the country hinges upon the leadership of a political party that successfully encompasses differing points of view and represents the national consensus," Hanegbi told Israel Radio.

It wasn't an easy decision, he said. "The candidates are all my close friends, whom I highly esteem. Eventually, I had to follow the same instincts that led me to support Ariel Sharon in the past."

"At the end of the day, we need to decide who is best at delivering the message Kadima stands for... and I believe it is Tzipi Livni, with her decades-long public experience, who embodies the best of Kadima," he said.

Hanegbi said that Livni's limited background in defense issues is not necessarily a major disadvantage, and that a leader is required to have a vision, common sense, courage and leadership qualities.

Hanegbi on Tuesday met with his activists, most of whom favor Mofaz, at the Petah Tikva home of Levy Sheetrit, a major Mofaz supporter. Senior party officials said they believe Hanegbi will say he supports Livni due to her presumed ability to attract voters in a general election.

Also on Tuesday, Shaul Mofaz won the support of Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham Balila and Kadima MKs David Tal and Otniel Schneller.

Avraham Balila called a meeting of her supporters at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv and said that after carefully considering the advantages of each of the candidates she came to the conclusion that Mofaz is the most eligible for leading the country.

"As a mother I was anxious to make clear how each of them will tackle the critical questions of life and death," she said, "and I choose Shaul Mofaz because right now nobody provides an alternative to his extensive experience as Defense Minister and IDF Chief of Staff."

The fog of secrecy regarding Kadima MKs' positions vis-a-vis the two candidates is growing heavier. Livni has the support of the majority, including Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, but Mofaz has pulled in some players of his own this week.