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To succeed Olmert, Israel's Mofaz opts for macho politics

But the ruling Kadima Party, which votes on a new leader Wednesday, may not buy into the former army chief's security policy.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 18, 2008

NEXT IN LINE? Shaul Mofaz addresses his supporters in Beersheba.

Amir Cohen/Reuters


Mevaseret Zion, Israel

Shaul Mofaz borrowed a paratrooper battle motto for his Kadima primary campaign to succeed Ehud Olmert as party leader and possibly prime minister: "After me!" The slogan is apt for a famed commando officer who kept his cool when trapped behind Syrian lines during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

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As voters go to the polls Wednesday, Mr. Mofaz is hoping that his hawkish reputation and experience as army chief and defense minister responsible for quashing the Palestinian uprising will appeal to voters. He hopes to garner support from Israelis jittery about leaving threats from Iran and Gaza to untested politicians.

Currently, his rival, Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni, has a double-digit lead in the polls. If Mofaz is able to overcome that, his supporters and critics expect him to align the centrist Kadima with the right-wing security hard-liners of the opposition Likud Party.

"There are enemies that want to destroy us," he said at a meeting of party supporters in this Jerusalem suburb last week. "We need strong leadership to lead Israel to safe waters. Give your vote to the one who you believe has the courage to make decisions and the ability to carry them out."

Mofaz's campaign is predicated on replicating the classic comeback of the Israeli soldier-politician. In 2007, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, another ex-chief of staff and former prime minister, performed a similar feat. He reclaimed the Labor Party leadership from a former trade union leader blamed for botching the 2006 Lebanon War.

Unlike Mr. Barak, Mofaz champions the rhetoric of the Israeli right. The Jewish state, he told his Jerusalem audience, is threatened by Islamic militants in Gaza and Lebanon. He declared the division of Jerusalem to be an impossible compromise. He also argued that giving up the Golan Heights in negotiations with Syria would be perceived as an invitation to Iran to the banks of the Sea of Galilee.