Shaul Mofaz keeps a diary. A daily journal in which he notes his thoughts and actions – or as he calls it, "the things we did right and the things we did wrong." The meticulous documentation is meant to help him in the future, when he writes what he is sure would be a bestseller – his memoirs.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz is sure his book will have historical significance, since soon a new chapter will be written, titled "Shaul Mofaz – prime minister." Not such a farfetched notion, if you look at the political arena.
A recent survey held by the Dahaf Institute at Yedioth Ahronoth's request among Kadima's registered voters showed that in a neck-to-neck race, 45% of them would vote for Mofaz. The race, mind you, has yet to officially start.
Kadima's September primaries stand to feature four candidates: Livni, Mofaz, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit.
Slowly but surely, Mofaz has become Livni's most formidable rival; and the man, as his personal history has demonstrated, is no stranger to beating the odds: He beat then-Major-General Matan Vilnai in the race for the IDF chief of staff position; and when former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon formed his 2002 government, he nabbed the Defense Ministry from underneath Benjamin Netanyahu's nose.
Those familiar with the inner workings of Kadima say that since it is hard to imagine either of them serving as a minister in the other one's government, the battle between Livni and Mofaz will probably be to the political death.
Battle of a lifetime. With Tzipi Livni (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Playing the defense card
Mofaz is convinced that when the moment of truth presents itself, Kadima voters will choose him, but he is far from complacent. Mofaz is considered a relative novice in the political game, but there is no doubt that since he first took on the Defense Ministry at Sharon's request, he has learned a great deal about the rules of the game – even at the expense of taking a clear political stand.
His political zigzagging was evident when he joined Kadima – a mere 48 hours after announcing to the world that the Likud was his political home forever and ever; or when he fiercely objected to the construction of the security fence – only to take charge of the operation; or when it came time to vote on the Gaza pullout – where he turned from one of the move's most adamant opponents to one of its most enthused advocates, almost overnight.
Mofaz has been savvy enough to send out feelers deep into the local political arena. He now has the ear of many of Israel's mayors; and he knows that eventually, they are the ones who will determine who heads Kadima. If Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav endorses Mofaz over Livni it means something to the voters, said a political source.
The same source went on to note that Mofaz is setting records in getting people to register as Kadima members, enticing 2,000 new members to join the party in the past few weeks alone. According to Kadima's codex, anyone who wants to be considered a party member – and have the right to vote on all party matters – has only to pay a reasonable, one-time fee. The other parties require their members to pay a monthly fee via a standing bank order. With that kind of stimulus, who can refuse?
Recent months have seen Mofaz gain more and more political strength. He holds meetings with activists, public meetings, and private functions in an attempt to cement his relationships with all voting ranks. Most recently, Mofaz hired American political strategist Arthur Finkelstein to advise his campaign. Finkelstein is best known for his work with Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman.
Mofaz during a visit to Sderot (Photo: Ze'ev Trachtman)
Finkelstein reportedly held a survey which indicated that the primaries would most likely focus on two issues: Israel's existential security and incorruptibility. When it comes to the latter, Finkelstein told him, you and Livni are toe-to-toe; but when it comes to matters of defense, that gap is categorically in your favor. Mofaz, declared Finkelstein, has to play the defense card.
The Mofaz way
I asked him if he did not think that declaring aloud that Israel should attack Iran was a mistake. No, it wasn’t, he answered, with his signature "don't worry, I know what I'm doing" smile. The majority of Kadima voters are politically inclined to the center-right, he added, and they understand that once all other options have been exhausted, the last resort would be to attack Iran.
Unlike Livni, who tries to accentuate her popularity with the general public and her seemingly good chances of beating Netanyahu in the next general elections, Mofaz is not one to put the cart before the horses. Whether or not Livni can win the next general elections is simply irrelevant, he says, for the simple reason we won't be having them. The right way to ensure governmental stability is to form an alternate government, based on a large coalition. This is the way to restore the public's trust in the government; and that, he adds, is something only I can do.
What Mofaz is essentially doing is telling the mayors that he will provide them with a victory right now, this coming November; and that this victory will have nothing to do with his ability to defeat Netanyahu. He is also sending a similar message to his fellow MKs: You need not worry about your political future – I can make sure you stay in your seats for an additional two years and you won’t have to break a sweat to get there.
Should push come to shove, Mofaz intends on approaching Labor, Shas and the Pensioners Party first, while trying to strike a deal with the National Union, Yisrael Beiteinu, United Torah Judaism and last but not least, the Likud. There is no bad blood between him and Netanyahu, he says, and there is no reason the latter will refuse to join his coalition.
Netanyahu, however, may consider such a bid political suicide – his strength lies in his being the opposition's leader. Mofaz, on his part, thinks that Netanyahu would be susceptible to such an offer. "Will staying in the opposition for two more years do him any good?" he asked.
Mofaz has been voicing the idea of forming a national unity government much longer than Livni has. A unity government should be the top priority and is an absolute must, he says. There is no need for another general election – that would do nothing but paralyze us. Israel has to take care of several burning matters: Freeing kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, dealing with the Iranian threat, dealing with Hamas and Hizbullah, and promoting the peace process. Israel must have governmental stability. An alternate government would create just that.
A wide-based coalition, he believes, would also serve to temper some of the heat within the political arena itself, allowing the prime minister to cement his status. Shas, he says, has no interest in new elections, neither do United Torah Judaism and the National Union; and since he gets along with their respective heads, as well as with Netanyahu and with Labor Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, there really shouldn’t be any problem.
Yes, Livni seems to have the upper hand when it comes to getting electoral mandates in a head-to-head race against either Netanyahu or Barak, but whoever leads Kadima – providing they watch their step – would be able to enjoy the same leverage, claims Mofaz. Kadima voters have to look beyond the next elections – they have to focus on keeping the party in power for the next two years.
Basic presumption of innocence. With Olmert (Photo: AFP)
Mofaz stressed he has no intention of running a smear campaign against Livni. He does, however, intend to stress whatever leverage he has on her, which can result in a rather unflattering comparison: When you examine the complex realities of Israel's existence, he says, you have to wonder if anyone can be up for the challenge. When it comes to matters of national security, you sometimes have to do more than just make decisions in the middle of the night; you have to reconcile various doctrines and views and that calls for certain experience. You cannot run a country on incorruptibility alone.
People, he says, are looking for a greater sense of security and eventually they will vote for the person with the most experience in that area. "When it comes to matters of security I have had to make my fair share of tough decisions," he adds. "That gives me a relative advantage on the other candidates."
And still, I asked, what leverage do you have over the other candidates for the prime minister's position, such as Barak, for example. "I have no leverage, but we have very different characters. I'm a team player. I don’t believe in soloists. I don’t think one man can make all the decisions about everything," he says.
The end of August will see Kadima's voters' roster close. Mofaz intends to form modest campaign headquarters, enlist a large group of volunteers – some of whom he knows from his early army days – cement his position as the alternative to Livni, and mount a full frontal assault towards winning the primaries. No slogan has been devised yet, but the words "Mofaz" and "security" are sure to be included. All that is really missing is the conjunction in between.
He has a very good feeling, he says. The same he got before he was named IDF chief of staff. The activists on the ground are sending him a vibe – a victory vibe.
Good vibrations. At a voters' meet (Photo: Yaron Brener)
And the country goes to…
He goes on to elegantly avoid the question of whether or not he would like to have Olmert's endorsement. His reluctance in understandable: These days an endorsement from the prime minister is somewhat of a double-edged sword. The right to be presumed innocent is basic, he says. Yes, one gets tired of hearing of yet another possibly-illegal entanglement involving Olmert, "but I believe we have to let the legal system do its job.
"I'm not sure this enthusiasm we have to replace him is right, as far as governmental stability is concerned," he adds. "After the Winograd Report was published, Livni and several other MKs tried to convince me the time was right for such a putsch and I refused. Such action is not in accordance with my personal standards. You need to have patience. These things take time... Yes, the public has had enough. The public is angry, but we must be patient. Whatever is supposed to happen – will."
The Israeli public seems oblivious to the fact that in three months or so, it may find itself using the phrase "Prime Minister Tzipi Livni," or "Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz." The fact that Kadima – which will essentially be holding its first primaries ever – will also be deciding who is the next prime minister of Israel, is unprecedented.
When Kadima's membership ranks are finalized, it is expected to include some 73,000 people. Only half of them are expected to exercise their right to vote, meaning the decision on Israel's next de-facto prime minister lies in the hands of a mere several thousand people.
Mofaz, said a senior Kadima official "is a mediocre man, who can form a mediocre government; which may be able to tackle matters of security, but not much else. In other words, Mofaz will do fine in case a war breaks out, but he will not be able to lead Israel towards any substantial diplomatic moves. He just doesn't have it in him."
And Livni, I asked, does she have it in her to do both? "She," he replied, "will be able to do neither."