Too High a Price for a Primary

Since Kadima's leadership contest has not officially begun, and no date for the primary has even been set, it is hard not to be impressed with the activity of candidate Shaul Mofaz: In a single week, he moved to the Golan Heights, set up a new cabinet and bombed Iran - all with his mouth. The latter move single-handedly caused the sharpest one-day increase in history in the price of a barrel of crude: $11. (See Story, Page A10)

On one hand, that is impressive productivity; on the other, it is scary. What is he planning for us during the real campaign, or the second round, if there is one? A world war? A clash of Titans?

The world's most important newspapers paid serious attention to the statements Mofaz made in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday and linked them to the rise in the price of petroleum. The Financial Times noted that Mofaz was born in Iran - which evidently makes him some sort of authority.

But the Prime Minister's Office and the Defense Ministry were less impressed. Senior officials in both saw the statements as "a reflection of outrageous irresponsibility." When Mofaz, who is responsible for the strategic dialogue between Israel and the United States, announces that Israel will attack Iran with support from Washington, he is supposedly hinting that during last week's meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President George Bush, they agreed on some sort of operational plan.

If Mofaz knows what he is talking about, he has revealed the two countries' greatest and most highly classified secret and has potentially seriously damaged a military operation. That is a bit too high a price for a party primary.

When Mofaz defected to Kadima from Likud in winter 2005, he was at the height of his race for the Likud leadership. Today, while vying for Kadima's leadership, he is conducting a Likud-style campaign. As Likud-like as possible - drenched in militarist and rightist declarations.

If we thought before that Mofaz wanted to turn Kadima into Likud B, it seems that we were naive. He wants to turn it into Likud A, and perhaps even merge the two parties and, once Benjamin Netanyahu quits the scene, run for the Likud leadership. Mofaz does not say things haphazardly. He apparently reached the conclusion that most of Kadima's members (as opposed to most of its voters) are increasingly leaning to the right, and he is making a bid for their support.

This may also be Tzipi Livni's calculation. Several days ago, the foreign minister told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the "military option is on the table" in relation to Iran. This was a less dramatic and bombastic declaration than the one made by Mofaz, but it also reflected a verbal escalation.

This is the twilight of Olmert's government, and its slow death, along with the start of the primary campaign, bode only ill. In one breath, there is talk of an attack on Iran, a peace accord with the Palestinians, the resumption of talks with Syria and an operation in the Gaza Strip. Nothing seems clear or obvious.

Mofaz is the person who may replace Ehud Barak at the Defense Ministry if Labor leaves the coalition. But yesterday, some in Labor sounded reluctant to leave. "If everyone is losing their mind," a senior Labor figure said, "it might be best for the only mature party" - Labor, of course - "not to rush to leave this government."