Ex-general to lead Israel's Kadima party

2012-03-28 13:00
Jerusalem - Shaul Mofaz, the hawkish former general who on Wednesday was elected head of Israel's Kadima opposition, is a hardliner with a tough stance on Iran who led Israeli troops out of Lebanon and Gaza.

Tuesday's leadership contest was the second time Mofaz had gone head-to-head with Tzipi Livni for the party leadership - last time during the primaries of September 2008, when she beat him with a razor-thin margin of just 431 votes.

This time, following a bitterly-fought campaign, Mofaz took his revenge, taking 61.77% of the votes, compared with Livni's 37.23%.

Throughout his campaign for the party leadership, he played up his weighty security credentials to show he was better equipped to lead the party than his rival, particularly as tensions rise over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The Iranian-born 63-year-old, who once served as the army's chief of staff and went on to hold the defence portfolio under Ariel Sharon, insists he is committed to making peace with the Palestinians.

"I want to tell the citizens of Israel that we deserve a country with social order, electoral reform... and strong steps to obtain peace in our region," he told reporters as he cast his vote near Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Palestinian uprising

However, his years of military experience, during which he fought in all of Israel's main wars, and his harsh, no-nonsense tactics during the bloody years of the second Palestinian intifada have earned him a reputation as a hardliner.

Born in Tehran on November 4 1948, Mofaz grew up in Iran until his family emigrated to Israel in 1957.

He joined the army a year before the 1967 Six Day War and steadily climbed the ranks until he was appointed chief of staff in 1998 by Benjamin Netanyahu, during his first term as prime minister.

Two years later, he was tasked by then Labour premier Ehud Barak with pulling Israeli forces out of south Lebanon after two decades of occupation.

But he burnished his hardline credentials in the early months of the second Palestinian uprising, which broke out in 2000.

It was Mofaz who led the army's massive invasion of the West Bank in March 2002, dubbed Operation Defensive Shield, and who laid siege to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in his West Bank compound.

Political novice

After stepping down as chief of staff later that year, Mofaz quickly joined the Likud party where, like Livni, he appeared to find his political home.

But they were both eventually persuaded to move to the centrist Kadima by its founder Sharon just weeks after the party was set up in late 2005.

The decision allowed Mofaz, who is married with four children, to retain his job as defence minister.

A relative political novice, Mofaz only entered politics in October 2002, taking on the defence portfolio at the request of Sharon.

He later won respect for guiding the withdrawal of troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005 in what was Israel's first-ever pullout from occupied Palestinian territory.

After his failed leadership bid, Mofaz remained with the party but lost his seat in the cabinet after the elections of February 2009, when Kadima went into opposition and Likud formed the government.

In recent years, Mofaz has been pushing his vision of a peace deal centred on an interim accord under which Israel would immediately recognise a Palestinian state, initially within temporary borders. In return the Palestinians would recognise Israel's main West Bank settlement blocs.

But with the Palestinians dead set against any deal involving a state on temporary borders, such a plan looks unlikely to gain traction.

Read more on:    benjamin netanyahu  |  israel  |  gaza strip  |  middle east peace
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