Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is quitting Likud for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Kadima party.
The dramatic announcement was made by Mofaz and Sharon during Sunday's cabinet meeting.
It appears that Sharon promised Mofaz to appoint him as defense minister if he is elected to form the new government following the March 2006 elections.
Mofaz enters press conference through window (Photo: Eli Elgrat)
"The events in the past few weeks have brought me to the painful conclusion that the Likud movement is drifting away from me and turning to the extreme right of the political map, and this is not my way," Mofaz later told reporters in Tel Aviv.
"I am in the Kadima party in order to make sure that it doesn’t turn too much toward the Left," he added.
"In the past few days I have experienced a lot of difficulties in making a decision, but I eventually decided that only in Kadima I can exert my influence," Mofaz said.
Sources in the Likud said in response that "Mofaz's defection is a direct result of his drop in the (Likud leadership) polls."
To this Mofaz responded by saying, 'The polls in the State of Israel are like the weather. One should not make decisions based on polls. The decision I made has nothing to do with the polls."
The defense minister continued: 'It appears that the new leadership in the Likud is comprised of the (Moshe) Feiglins and of (Benjamin) Netayahu and (Uzi) Landau. I understood that with such a leadership, my ability to influence the future of the State of Israel would be limited."
"In light of the security and political challenges the State of Israel is now facing we need a leadership that can be trusted, a leadership that unites judgment abilities and experience, he said.
"The combination between the prime minister and myself has proved itself in the past few years to be the right and worthy combination."
'You don't leave your home'
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said in response that "I am very surprised to hear this. Shaul Mofaz's drop in the polls led him to this situation."
"I ask Benjamin Netanyahu whether he is willing to stay in politics if I should be elected as Likud chairman. I was one of the first on Sharon's shopping list, but I said that I would not leave the Likud," he added.
"I'm staying in my party and want to be the head of this movement," Shalom concluded.
An associate of MK Netanyahu said in response to the latest development, "Mofaz provides a new meaning to the concept of opportunism."
"His move indicates his lack of values and inconsistency. The Likud is loyal to its values and will persist for many years, while Kadima, with all its hitchhikers, will dissipate and be forgotten," the aide said.
Just last week Mofaz said that despite Likud's poor poll performance, it is too early to write the party off, provided the party falls under his leadership.
"It's too early to eulogize the Likud, I have plans for the party's recovery. If Netanyahu gets elected, many members will leave and the movement will fall apart. I'm the alternative," he said during a meeting with party activists in the Tikva market in Tel Aviv.
"You don't leave your home," the defense minister added.