Forward Thinking

New Israeli Defense Chief: Tough-talking Hardliner

By J.J. Goldberg

Ynet.co.il, the news site associated with Yediot Ahronot, has a profile of incoming Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (known since his youth by the nickname “Boogy”). It’s important reading, so I’ve translated it below.

Here’s the background that’s not in the profile: Born Moshe Smilansky in 1950, raised in suburban Haifa, he was active in the Noar Oved ve-Lomed youth movement and was in a garin (settlement group) named Garin Yaalon (from which he took his name), which joined with a sister garin from American Habonim to rebuild Kibbutz Grofit near Eilat. He returned to the army after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and rose through the ranks. Commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, became chief of Military Intelligence in 1995 and chief of Central Command, in charge of the West Bank, in 1998. During this period he underwent a famous conversion from left- to right-wing, claiming publicly that he now realized the Palestinians had no intention of making peace. In 2002 he became chief of staff, serving three years after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz denied him the customary fourth-year extension due to his outspoken opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. It’s worth noting that of the 18 living ex-chiefs of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet, he is the only one who opposes a two-state solution. - JJG

Political Hawk and Loose Tongue

Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon called his General Staff colleagues “snakes” and the organizations on the left “a virus.” He believes that evacuating settlements is “perverse” and that the IDF can attack any nuclear installation in Iran. Over the years Yaalon’s statements have reflected a determined, activist security philosophy. In his gunsights: leftists, Turks and of course Ehud Barak.

By Roy Mandel, Ynet 3/18/13

In April 2012 Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon absorbed criticism at home when he dared to declare that he was Benjamin Netanyahu’s heir and would one day run for the leadership of the Likud and the country. The prime minister, as we learned from the negotiations with Yair Lapid, does not like politicians who openly declare that the house on Balfour Street is the object of their dreams. But ever so quietly, under the radar and almost without opposition, the former chief of staff has found himself in an excellent launching pad for the fulfillment of his vision, now that he has been named defense minister in Israel’s 33rd government. The man who declared on the day he was demobilized from the IDF that he was careful to keep his boots on at General Staff headquarters because of all the snakes will soon enter much taller shoes and march in them to his new office, which is located in the same General Staff compound, the Kiryah.

Moshe Yaalon, ID no. 2057989, is a kibbutznik who returned to active duty after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a retired chief of staff, the commander of the IDF during the second half of the second intifada and a person who ended his military service in grating tones when his tenure was not extended on the eve of the Gaza disengagement. Now, after a term as minister for strategic affairs, he is returning to run the entire system.

The man who led a hawkish line at the General Staff and in the government, who believed that Yasser Arafat had never deviated from his goal of destroying the state of Israel, who insisted that the paradigm of two states for two peoples was unworkable—will now navigate the security establishment, effectively oversee millions of Palestinians and deal with Israel’s security and strategic challenges. Many on the dovish side of the political and military map fear that his line will drag Israel into diplomatic and security complications.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yom Kippur War, Yisrael Hasson, Yasser Arafat, Turkey, Turkel Commission, Shin Bet, Shaul Mofaz, Second Lebanon War, Second Intifada, Sayeret Matkal, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Plessner Committee, Palestinians, Palestinian Authority, Noar Oved ve-Lomed, Mossad, Moshe Yaalon, Moshe Smilansky, Moshe Feiglin, Mavi Marmara, Likud, Lebanon, Kibbutz Grofit, Kadima, Jewish Leadership, Iran, Hezbollah, Harpaz Report, Gaza Disengagement, Ehud Barak, Dana Weiss, Dan Shomron, Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel's Big Losers — Not Just Ultra-Orthodox

By Nathan Jeffay

Dizzying Fall: It’s not just the Haredim that got shafted. Kadima boss Shaul Mofaz capped a dizzying fall from grace by being left out of the cabinet.

The Forward looks today at some of the winners in Israel’s new coalition deal, but who are the losers?

Apart from the obvious answer which is the Haredi parties, who were left out in the cold, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz is one of the biggest losers. His party has just two seats in the new Knesset, and it is difficult bit to conclude that it will disappear in the next elections — if it survives that long.

Mofaz could have negotiated a coalition spot with a half-decent ministry to salvage at least his own political prospects if not those of his party. But instead of cutting a deal with Prime Minister and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu he tried to align himself with Jewish Home and Yesh Atid when they were in their hard-bargaining phase. So he got snubbed by Bibi.

Also punished by Bibi was Reuven Rivlin, who has been critical of what he regards as his autocratic and pushy leadership style. Rivlin, who belongs to Likud, has questioned Bibi’s commitment to democratic principles. He has been replaced as Knesset speaker by Yuli Edelstein and left without a ministry — despite the fact that he won seventh spot in Likud’s primaries back in November.

A third loser is Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar, who had the humiliation of having his ministry, Education, given away to Yesh Atid. Though many educationalists regard him as a reactionary, he was keen to stay in the Education Ministry, where he claims he is making positive changes. He may become Interior Minister, though it is currently unclear if he will receive a ministerial appointment at all.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: ultra-orthodox, shaul mofaz, kadima, coalition, benjamin netanyahu

Behind Coalition Standoff: Likud MKs Can't Face Loss

By J.J. Goldberg

getty images
Benjamin Netanyahu

With Prime Minister Netanyahu just days away from his final deadline to install a new government or lose the option, observers on all sides have their own ways of explaining what’s holding things up. Most of them are correct, but there’s a larger truth that overshadow them all: The Likud hasn’t internalized the fact that it lost the last election, and can’t retain all the goodies in the next coalition that it enjoyed in the last one.

The other explanations are worth reviewing, as they provide the background for Bibi’s current dilemma. One theory is that Bibi stalled until the last minute—that is, until Friday, March 8—before beginning earnest negotiations, in hopes of breaking up the Yair Lapid-Naftali Bennett alliance, bypassing Lapid and bringing in his old ultra-Orthodox Shas allies into a coalition alongside Bennett and Tzipi Livni. Another theory is that Lapid and his chief negotiator, businessman and onetime Ariel Sharon aide Uri Shani, are dragging the current, bare-knuckled negotiations until a minute before midnight—that would be Thursday, March 14—in order to force Bibi to accept their demands.

The bottom line, though, is that the second-tier Likud leaders on Bibi’s bench haven’t yet internalized the fact that they lost the January 22 election and can’t keep what they had in the last election. Accordingly, they’re making it impossible for Bibi to give Lapid what he earned from the voters. Unfortunately for them, Lapid isn’t ready to fold. He’s already given up too much.

Lapid’s reasoning is that he effectively leads a bloc of 33 seats in the 120-member Knesset, including his own Yesh Atid party (19 seats), Bennett’s Jewish Home (12) and Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima (2). That makes his bloc larger than Bibi’s 31-seat Likud-Beiteinu bloc (which is not a party but rather an alliance of Likud, with 20, and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, with 11). Following that logic, Lapid spent days insisting on receiving two of the four senior ministries in the new government: foreign affairs for himself and finance for Bennett. Bibi would keep the prime ministry for himself and the defense ministry for his number 2 (more on that later).

Bibi couldn’t do that, ostensibly because he had promised to keep the foreign ministry open for Lieberman, who had to resign to face trial on corruption charges but is hoping to return after an acquittal or misdemeanor conviction. In fact, keeping promises has never been Netanyahu’s signature issue, but he had two other, more compelling considerations:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ze'ev Elkin, Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, Yariv Levin, Yair Lapid, Yael German, Ultra-Orthodox, Tzipi Livni, Shas, Shaul Mofaz, Nissan Slomianski, National Religious Party, Naftali Bennett, Modern Orthodox, Miri Regev, Meir Cohen, Likud-Beiteinu, Jewish Home, Kadima, Avigdor Lieberman, Danny Danon, Bibi Netanyahu

Poll: New Vote Would Net Lapid 30 Seats, Bibi 22

By J.J. Goldberg

A new opinion poll shows that if Israel were to hold new elections today, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would win with 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, up from its current 19, putting the former television personality in line to be prime minister, while Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu would drop from 31 seats to 22. Naftali Bennett’s pro-settler Jewish Home party would gain three seats for a total of 15, while the Labor Party would drop two seats to 13. The poll of 510 respondents, released Thursday, was conducted by Panels Ltd. for the Knesset Channel.

A second poll, conducted by Maagar Mochot for Maariv and published Friday, gave Lapid 24 seats and Netanyahu 28. Bennett would rise to 13 and Shas to 12, while Labor would drop to 11 and Kadima would disappear.

Israelis could be forced to return to the ballot box this spring if Netanyahu fails to assemble a coalition by mid-March. President Shimon Peres could forestall new elections by tapping another candidate to try and form a coalition within two weeks after Netanyahu’s deadline runs out, but at present no such coalition seems likely.

At present, new elections are looking more likely than any other option. Since the January 22 elections Netanyahu has managed to sign one coalition deal, with the dovish Tzipi Livni and her six-seat Hatnuah party, promising Livni the Justice Ministry and control of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. To win a 61-seat majority he now needs to sign two of the next four largest parties—either Yesh Atid (with 19 seats), Labor (15), Jewish Home (12) or Shas (11). But under current conditions, any such combination is impossible, because no two parties have indicated any willingness to sit together. Here’s how the breakdown breaks down:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, Shaul Mofaz, Panels Ltd., Naftali Bennett, Likud-Beiteinu, Knesset Channel, Labor Party, Kadima, Haaretz, Jewish Home, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel College, Amiel Ungar, Ari Shavit

Shaul Mofaz, Israel's Unlikely Kingmaker

By Nathan Jeffay

Could a politician who almost disappeared in to obscurity be poised to take up one of the most powerful positions in Israel?

It is safe to say that as chairman of the Kadima party Shaul Mofaz hasn’t been the greatest of successes. It’s hard to believe but Kadima was actually the biggest party in Knesset after the last election, yet in the poll 16 days ago it almost failed to pass the electoral threshold, and in the final reckoning scraped in with two seats.

To Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is busy building his coalition, every mandate counts, and ever since the election he has apparently been keen to get Kadima on board. Now, with US President Barack Obama set to visit Israel and focus attention on the peace process, wooing Kadima has become more attractive for Netanyahu — and he may well be prepared to make him Defense Minister.

Kadima has a reputation as centrist and pro-peace, and can help with the challenge of giving international credibility to his government on issues of peace. Though the party only has two lawmakers, it’s a pro-peace name on the list of coalition parties, which will allow him to present his government as more centrist. If he also persuades the six-seat Tzipi Livni Party to join, as expected, he will have notched up two pro-peace factions in his coalition — despite the fact that their smallness would compromise their ability to promote a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: benjamin netanyahu, coatlition, election, israel, kadima, shaul mofaz

Is Bibi Obsessed With Iran?

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images
Benjamin Netanyahu

Everyone said that here in Israel we’d see an election that is all a about Iran, and today the largest opposition party started to set that agenda.

“Netanyahu is entangling us,” Kadima’s newly-revealed election slogan claims. The Hebrew word “entangling” has the strong connotation of endangerment.

Kadima’s claim is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud party, lacks restraint and is prone to obsession on the issue of Iran. “Netanyahu is busy with only one thing — bombing Iran,” declared party leader Shaul Mofaz when presenting the slogan today. “Nothing else interests him. Not the middle class, not young couples, not society — only his uncontrollable urge to bomb Iran.”

Kadima is arguing in its campaign that Netanyahu’s lack of restraint on Iran is more problematic since Likud joined forces with the avowedly rightist Yisrael Beytenu party led by Avigdor Liberman last week. Mofaz claimed that “there is no responsibility and no logic, only one obsession.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: kadima, israel, iran, elections, benjamin netanyahu, shaul mofaz

Obama Drops In on Mofaz

By Nathan Guttman

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Shaul Mofaz

President Obama seems to be perfecting the art of drop-in diplomacy, at least when it comes to Jewish and Israeli leaders. Obama, in recent weeks, took the liberty of dropping into the meetings White House officials held with Jewish Conservative and Orthodox leaders. Then last Thursday he popped into a meeting National Security Adviser Tom Donilon was holding with Israel’s newly appointed deputy prime minister Shaul Mofaz.

These unplanned meetings are a unique treat for visiting dignitaries. One stop below an actual scheduled oval office meeting, a presidential drop-in still gives the guest that feeling of being so special that even the commander-in-chief can’t help but stop by to say hello. It also comes with a photo-op to be cherished forever and used in future political campaigns.

How surprising are these presidential visits?

Mofaz told reporters after the meeting he had “no idea” Obama would join the conversation. Orthodox leaders seem to have had better intelligence than the former Israeli general — they came to the White House all prepared with a gift for Obama, just in case he showed up.

Shaul Mofaz got a fair amount of attention during his three-day visit to Washington. In addition to his 35 minutes of face time with the President, Mofaz met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, National Security Adviser Donilon, and key legislators on Capitol Hill. To his American hosts, Mofaz not only demonstrates the strange ways of Israeli politics, where the leading opposition figure can become, overnight, a partner in his rival’s coalition, he also represents a chance for changing the tone of Netanyahu’s government, a hope that he will serve as a more responsive actor in Israeli politics.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Shaul Mofaz, Peace Process, Israel, Barack Obama

Bibi-Kadima Unity Deal Saves the Peace Camp

By J.J. Goldberg

The Likud-Kadima agreement to form a unity government and cancel the early election makes all the sense in the world for Kadima. It’s arguably the smartest move by any Israeli peace advocate in a long time.

Newly minted Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, who ousted Tzipi Livni in a primary upset just two weeks ago, inherited a party with 28 seats Knesset seats. It’s the largest bloc in the current house - one seat more than the Likud in the 120-seat legislature. But Kadima was headed for a crash in the coming snap elections. Polls showed Mofaz winning just 11 seats in September, the same as center-liberal newcomer Yair Lapid. Labor Party leader Sheli Yacimovich was polling at 18 seats (up from the 13 Labor won in the last election, which dropped to 8 after Ehud Barak’s defection). Thus the total center-left bloc was headed for 40 seats. Netanyahu was polling at a commanding 30 seats, and with Avigdor Lieberman pulling 15, plus assorted religious and far-right factions, Bibi was headed for a second term that would take him through 2016 essentially unchallenged.

By joining a unity coalition, Mofaz gives himself another year to build up a following and establish himself as an alternative to Bibi. From his perspective, his two rivals for leadership of the center-left, Yacimovich and Lapid, are not serious candidates. Both are former television journalists with little to no leadership experience and only the fuzziest familiarity with foreign and security policy. Mofaz is a former army chief of staff and former defense minister, active in civilian politics since 2003, highly regarded as a team leader, manager and policy wonk on domestic and security affairs. There have been talks in recent days about bringing the three together to form a joint list to oppose Bibi, but no agreement as to who would lead.

What specifically does tonight’s deal gain for Mofaz and Kadima?

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sheli Yacimovich, Shaul Mofaz, Palestinians, Labor Party, Likud, Israeli Elections, Knesset, Kadima, Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, Yair Lapid

Where Does Kadima Go Without Tzipi?

By Liam Hoare

If Tzipi Livni’s defeat in the Kadima leadership contest results in her diminution in Israeli public life, then Shaul Mofaz’s victory will prove to be entirely Pyrrhic. If Livni merely heads towards the door marked exit and retires from public life, Israel’s domestic scene and the international community will be all the poorer for it, for Livni is a first-rate politician whose intellect and vision for her country is equal only to her striking beauty and grace.

It is not unreasonable to place her philosophically in a line of Israeli leaders which runs from David Ben-Gurion through Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, who came to the necessary conclusion that in order to secure a Jewish and democratic state for future generations, Israel would have to relinquish lands gained in war beyond the Green Line, and forge some kind of peace with the Palestinian leadership.

“The dispute,” Livni remarked on the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, “is around the question of whether you can have it both ways – maintaining Israel as a Jewish state and keeping the entire Land of Israel”. The answer, she concluded, is that you can’t.

Her flaw, and what may indeed have resulted in her defeat to Mofaz, is that once the decision was made to take Kadima into opposition as opposed to coalition with Likud in 2009, she appeared lacking when it came to articulating a powerful and gripping counter-narrative to the more hard-line stance Benjamin Netanyahu has adopted towards both the Palestinians and Iran. Whilst Livni remains popular amongst the international community and in particular within the U.S. State Department, at home recent polling data before the primary showed that though Likud would stand to gain seats in the next election, Kadima under Livni would see their chunk of seats in the Knesset slashed in half.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, Likud, Kadima, Benjamin Netanyahu

Goodbye Tzipi, Hello Shaul

By Gal Beckerman

The results of the elections for leadership of the Kadima party are in and Shaul Mofaz has won a decisive victory over Tzipi Livni. With 100% of the votes counted, Mofaz won 61.5 percent to Livni’s 38.5 percent. Ouch.

There was nothing really for Livni to say as she stood in front of her supporters on Tuesday night besides, “These are elections, and these are the results.”

The big mystery at this point is whether Mofaz intends to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, as Livni was never willing to do — and whether Netanyahu would have him

To hear Mofaz on Tuesday, he has no plans to accept any portfolio besides prime minister: “I intend to win the general elections and bring Netanyahu down. Our country deserves a new social agenda, a different government system, equality of civic duties, and more serious attempts to achieve peace in our region.”

But there have been comments from other Kadima members that Mofaz wouldn’t mind ousting Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister.

We will have to wait and see. What is sure is that Mofaz is now emerging as a serious political player, and we’ll be eager to learn a little more about him and his core principles. On the biographical front, we know that he was born in Iran in 1948 and is married with four children. He jumped into politics in 2002 after a long military career. Haaretz has a brief bio here. Surely, there will be more in the coming days and months.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Shaul Mofaz, Israel, Kadima, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, Tzipi Livni

Israel and Iran: What '60 Minutes' Didn't Tell You

By J.J. Goldberg

Leslie Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview Sunday night with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan (transcript) gave important exposure to his views on the folly of attacking Iran. However, she got two things very wrong, both of which weakened the strength of his case against a military strike. The bottom line is, she let you think Dagan is a lone voice. In fact, it’s Bibi Netanyahu who’s nearly alone on this. The trouble is, Bibi’s the one who gets to make the decision. That’s why Dagan and nearly every other military or intelligence chief is speaking out against him: They’re scared of him.

Stahl suggested as though it were credible that Dagan was pushed out of the Mossad, supposedly because of the messy assassination of Hamas arms procurer Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010 — and hence that his campaign against the Netanyahu-Barak war talk is a petty act of revenge. In fact, Dagan was supposed to retire in late 2009 at the mandatory age of 65, but Netanyahu asked him to stay on for another year and he ended up retiring on schedule in January 2011.

More seriously misleading is her assertion early on that it’s “unheard of for someone who held such a high-classified position to speak out publicly.” That makes it sound like he’s a lone voice in the wilderness. In fact, as I’ve written before, Dagan’s views have been publicly echoed by every single ex-Mossad or Israel Defense Forces chief going back to 1996, with the single exception of super-hawk (and Netanyahu ally) Moshe Yaalon. Now, that is unheard of.

Even more astonishing, the current heads of the IDF and Mossad, Benny Gantz and Tamir Pardo, have now gone public resisting Netanyahu’s war push. Even Dagan didn’t dare to do that. That’s beyond unheard-of.

Here’s the roll-call:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yuval Diskin, Shaul Mofaz, Mossad, Meir Dagan, Mahmoud Mabhouh, Israel Defense Forces, Iran, Gabi Ashkenazi, Ehud Barak, Efraim Halevy, Dan Halutz, Danny Yatom, Benjamin Netanyahu, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, "60 Minutes, " Leslie Stahl




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