The decision by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down amid corruption allegations has left many questions in Israel and in the region. There are two main contenders to replace Olmert as leader of the Kadima party. The front-runner Tzipi Livni, is a former Mossad operative and current foreign minister. She was a protégé of Ariel Sharon in the Likud and jumped with him to Kadima when it was formed. Her main Kadima rival is Shaul Mofaz, a hawkish former general and current transportation minister. The Iranian born Mofaz is famous for his ruthless crushing of the Palestinian uprising in Jenin and other West Bank towns in 2000, first as military chief of staff and later defense minister. Livni is favoured in opinion polls by 8 to 18 percent to win the Kadima leadership. Calls have come from Israeli opposition leader Benyamin Netanyahu of Likud for a general election. The elections would probably come in February or March, which would see Olmert remain prime minister till then. Netanyahu was prime minister from 1996 to 1999, a hardliner who does not believe in land for peace, He is in favour of more west bank settlements and calls Israel’s recent meetings with Syria “groveling”. Ehud Barak, leader of the Israeli Labour Party, part of the ruling coalition with Kadima, will also be in the running. Barak is a former General and was Prime Minister from 1999-2001. As the current defence minister Barak said that Israel will return to its pattern of air stikes to crush in Gaza despite the month long truce. A recent poll by Israel’s Channel 10 shows Netanyahu as the most preferred leader with 36 per cent, Tzipi Livni with 24.6, Ehud Barak with 11.9 and none of the above with 19 percent. When Livni was replaced in the poll, by her Kadima rival Shaul Mofaz, Netanyahu garnered 36.6, Barak 14.4, Mofaz 12 and None of the above 27.4. What this could mean for the stalled peace process with the Palestinians will depend mostly on the next US president whether Barack Obama or John McCain. But on the question of Iran, there is still the fear that Israel might act unilaterally. Recent comments from the 4 possible future Israeli prime ministers might seem to reinforce what investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker last month, that an attack on Iran could come before the end of US President George W. Bush’s term next January.
11 August 2008