Lieutenant General Shaul Mofaz (Hebrew: שאול מופז; born 4 November 1948) is an Israeli former soldier and politician. He joined the Israel Defense Forces in 1966 and served in the Paratroopers Brigade. He fought in the Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War, 1982 Lebanon War, and Operation Entebbe with the paratroopers and Sayeret Matkal, an elite special forces unit. In 1998 he became the sixteenth IDF's Chief of the General Staff, serving until 2002. He is of Iranian Jewish ancestry.
After leaving the army, he entered politics. He was appointed Minister of Defense in 2002, holding the position until 2006 when he was elected to the Knesset on the Kadima list. He then served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transportation and Road Safety until 2009. After becoming Kadima leader in March 2012 he became Leader of the Opposition, before returning to the cabinet during a 70-day spell in which he served as Acting Prime Minister, Vice Prime Minister and Minister without Portfolio. Kadima was reduced to just two seats in the 2013 elections, and Mofaz retired from politics shortly before the 2015 elections.
Early life and military career
Shaul Mofaz was born Shahrām Mofazzazkār (Persian: شهرام مفضضکار) on 4 November 1948 in Tehran, to parents from Isfahan. Mofaz immigrated to Israel with his parents in 1957. Upon graduating from high school in 1966, he joined the Israel Defense Forces and served in the Paratroopers Brigade. He served in the Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War, 1982 Lebanon War, and Operation Entebbe with the paratroopers and Sayeret Matkal, an elite special forces unit.
Mofaz was then appointed an infantry brigade commander for the 1982 Lebanon War. Afterwards he attended the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Quantico, Virginia, USA. On his return he was briefly appointed commander of the Officers School, before returning to active service as commander of the Paratroop Brigade in 1986.
Mofaz served in a series of senior military posts, having been promoted to the rank of Brigadier General (1988). In 1993 he was made commander of the IDF forces in the West Bank. In 1994, he was promoted to Major General, commanding the Southern Corps. His rapid rise continued; in 1997 Mofaz was appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff and in 1998 he was appointed Chief of the General Staff.
His term of Chief of Staff was noted for financial and structural reforms of the Israeli Army. But the most significant event in his tenure was the eruption of the Second Intifada in September, 2000. The tough tactics undertaken by Mofaz drew widespread concern from the international community but were broadly supported by the Israeli public. Controversy erupted over the offensive in Jenin, intermittent raids in the Gaza Strip, and the continued isolation of Yasser Arafat.
Mofaz foresaw the wave of violence coming early as 1999 and prepared the IDF for intense guerrilla warfare in the territories. He fortified posts at the Gaza Strip and kept Israel Defense Forces casualties low. While he was known for claiming, "Israel has the most moral army in the world," he drew criticism from both Israeli and international human rights monitoring groups because of the methods he had undertaken, including using armored bulldozers to demolish 2,500 Palestinian civilian homes, displacing thousands, in order to create a security "buffer zone" along the Rafah border.
Following a government crisis in 2002, Shaul Mofaz was appointed Defense Minister by Ariel Sharon. Although he supported an agreement with the Palestinians, he was willing to make no compromise in the war against militant groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim, and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
The fact that he had only recently left his position as IDF Chief of Staff prevented him from participating in the 2003 election (by which time Mofaz had joined Sharon's Likud). Nevertheless, Sharon reappointed him as Defense Minister in the new government.
On 21 November 2005, Mofaz rejected Sharon's invitation to join his new party, Kadima, and instead announced his candidacy for the leadership of Likud. But, on 11 December 2005, one day after he promised he would never leave the Likud, he withdrew from both the leadership race and the Likud to join Kadima.
Following the elections in late March 2006, Mofaz was moved from the position of Defense Minister and received the Transport ministry in the new Cabinet installed on 4 May 2006.
In 2008, with Israel's then prime minister, Ehud Olmert, being pressured to resign due to corruption charges, Mofaz announced that he would run for the leadership of the Kadima party.
On 5 August 2008, Mofaz officially entered the race to be leader of Kadima. That same day he received a blessing by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. On 17 September 2008, he lost the Kadima party election, losing to Tzipi Livni for the spot of the Prime Minister and leader of Kadima. Livni's narrow margin of 431 votes was 43.1% to Shaul Mofaz's 42.0%, a huge difference from the 10 to 12-point exit polls margins. She said the "national responsibility (bestowed) by the public brings me to approach this job with great reverence". Mofaz accepted the Kadima primary's result, despite his lawyer, Yehuda Weinstein's appeal advice, and telephoned Livni congratulating her. Livni got 16,936 votes, with 16,505 votes, for Mofaz. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit had 6.5% and 8.5% respectively.
Placed second on the Kadima list, Mofaz retained his seat in the 2009 elections, but lost his cabinet position after Likud formed the government.
On 27 March 2012, Shaul Mofaz won the Kadima party leadership primaries by a landslide, defeating party chairwoman Tzipi Livni. Mofaz became Vice Prime Minister as part of a deal reached for a government of national unity with Binyamin Netanyahu. Mofaz said during the Kadima primaries that he would not join a government led by Netanyahu.
Mofaz left over Netanyahu's indecision over a draft reform law and warned that the prime minister was trying to patch together a majority for a vote to plunge the region into war.
In 2013 Kadima, just 4 years prior the ruling party, received 2% of the votes, barely passing to the Knesset.
In the buildup to the 2015 elections Kadima was not expect to pass the threshold, as it was raised to 3.25%. Mofaz negotiated with the Zionist Union alliance to bring Kadima onto their slate, but ended negotiations when it became clear he would not be their candidate for Defense Minister. Immediately after Mofaz announced he was not joining the Zionist Union slate, it was announced the former Military Intelligence Directorate (Israel) head Amos Yadlin was appointed to the Zionist Union slate and would be their candidate for Defense Minister. Within a week of his announcement that he was not running with the Zionist Union, Mofaz announced his retirement from politics.
In popular culture
A fictionalized version of Mofaz appeared in the 2008 drama film Lemon Tree.