The Gospel According to Mofaz

None of the candidates vying to succeed Ehud Olmert has major news to share.

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A senior Israeli official once told me that our secret weapon is not the nuclear bomb that foreign sources say is hiding in Dimona. After all, one day the Iranians, and maybe the Egyptians and the Syrians, will achieve nuclear capability. Rather, our most valuable strategic asset is the widespread belief in the Middle East that the Jewish Israelis are the smartest people in the world.

Shaul Mofaz refutes this myth. If he wins the Kadima leadership race, he will show our neighbors that Israel is losing its qualitative edge. And if the Labor Party crowns him prime minister, the move will prove that Israel is suffering from a chronic decline.

When the prime minister made Mofaz the minister responsible for strategic dialogue with the United States, as a consolation prize for not winning the defense portfolio, he didn't take into account that Mofaz would use this title in his primary campaign. Less than a month after his comments in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he said Israel will have no choice but to attack Iran with American approval, drove up the price of oil, Mofaz is once again pouring oil on the global fire. At a Washington research institute he announced that Iran was on the verge of a major breakthrough in its nuclear program.

As the United States tries to reach an agreement with Iran via diplomatic channels, Mofaz is announcing that Israel must be prepared to use all options to defend itself. He rejected criticism regarding his statement's influence on the oil market with the crushing argument that Israel's existence is more important than oil prices.

On the eve of the 1996 elections, Moshe Ya'alon, then the head of Military Intelligence, said Iran was hoping for Benjamin Netanyahu to win. He meant that Tehran thought a Likud leader would make the Oslo process fail, cause the reformation of the Arab refusal front and pave Iran's way to the territories. On the eve of the Kadima primary, it appears that the Iranians have good reason to hope for a Mofaz victory.

As chief of staff and defense minister, Mofaz did more than Netanyahu to contribute to the fall of the centrist-secular rule in the territories and the strengthening of the settlers' hold on it. Beforehand, he managed to thwart then-prime minister Ehud Barak's efforts to get the Israel Defense Forces out of Lebanon in coordination with the Lebanese government. The unilateral withdrawal in 2000 made room for Hezbollah, Iran's ally, to take over southern Lebanon. The hasty retreat from Lebanon showed the residents of the territories that the violent way to get rid of the Israeli occupation, the way Hamas has adopted, is a shorter path than Fatah's diplomatic way.

Early last week, Mofaz expressed his vehement opposition to negotiations with the Palestinians over a final-status agreement. Then, over the weekend, he said he believes we need to negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, "so he will have the power to fight terror, which enjoys Iranian support." Who knows, maybe Kadima members include a few people from the peace camp.

Two months ago, Mofaz went up north to announce that the Golan Heights are not only a strategic asset that we must not give up under any circumstances, but also a very nice region where Mofaz is considering moving with his family. Mofaz took the opportunity to declare that withdrawing from the Golan would bring Iranian soldiers to Israel's borders, and suggested not "running amok" after every Syrian overture. In other words, it's better to push Syria into Iran's embrace than to speak with Damascus.

This past weekend, however, Mofaz announced from Washington that if he is the one who replaces Olmert, he will immediately continue negotiations with Syria, without preconditions.

Have I mentioned that a primary campaign is underway?

None of the candidates vying to succeed Ehud Olmert has major news to share. They did not initiate a single important project or achieve anything exceptional as ministers or cabinet members.

They have all reached the top because they jumped from the Likud to Ariel Sharon's party at the right time. Each is responsible, to some degree, for the failures of the Second Lebanon War, the trampling of the peace process and the spread of the settlements. Middling politicians like them come and go by the dozens without leaving a mark on history, for better or for worse. But it's hard to find an Israeli public figure who damages the country's crucial strategic interests more than candidate Mofaz.