Shaul Mofaz, who was elected to head Israel’s biggest party (on paper) on Tuesday, started from humble beginnings. He was born in 1948 in Tehran and immigrated to Israel with his family at age 9. He went to elementary school in Eilat and later attended the same boarding school in Nahalal that produced another IDF chief of staff and defense minister, Moshe Dayan.
In 1966, Mofaz volunteered to join the paratroopers, where he eventually served in every possible command post, from platoon commander to brigade commander.
During the Six-Day War in 1967, he fought with the paratroopers in Sinai, and later served as a platoon commander in the 1969-70 War of Attrition on the Egyptian front. He commanded the paratrooper reconnaissance unit during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Mofaz was later named deputy commander of the Sayeret Matkal elite special forces unit, under the command of Yonatan Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother. Mofaz fought alongside Yonatan Netanyahu in the hostage rescue mission at Entebbe airport in Uganda in 1976, during which Netanyahu was killed.
Mofaz was appointed an infantry brigade commander ahead of the 1982 Lebanon War. Afterward, he attended the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Quantico, Virginia. 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 continued toclimb u rapidly p the ranks, accruing military achievements, until he was finally appointed chief of general staff in 1998. He served as the military chief for four years.
Combat soldiers also know Mofaz thanks to the invention attributed to him, the "Mofazit," a device designed to hold the magazine each soldier has been given upon enlistment since the 1980s, and the “Mofaz ambush” – a method he developed that is taught in IDF command courses.
Mofaz’s most notable undertaking during his term as chief of staff was the preparation of the IDF for a withdrawal from Lebanon. Though he vocally opposed the one-sided withdrawal following an 18-year presence in Lebanon, he carried out the orders of then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and led the withdrawal operation on May 24, 2000.
On March 29, 2002, the IDF, under Mofaz’s command, mounted a comprehensive offensive – Operation Defensive Shield – entering Palestinian towns such as Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jenin, to fight Palestinian terrorists there. Some 250 Palestinians were killed during that operation and hundreds more were arrested, effectively stopping what was up until then a murderous rampage of suicide terrorism in Israeli cities.
At the start of the operation, an unintentionally open microphone caught Mofaz whispering to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, urging him to take advantage of the opportunity and expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mofaz’s urging went unheeded, and Arafat remained in his headquarters in Ramallah. Allegations surfaced later that the whispering incident was staged in order to exert psychological pressure on Arafat.
Later that same year, Sharon appointed Mofaz Defense Minister, though he was not a member of Knesset. He quickly discovered that his political views were most in line with the Likud's, but since the necessary cooling-off period between the end of his term as IDF chief and his entry into politics had not passed, he was barred from running in the 2003 election for Knesset. Despite this, Sharon reappointed him to the post of defense minister.
At the end of 2005, Mofaz initially rejected Sharon’s invitation to join his new party, Kadima, and instead announced his candidacy for the leadership of Likud. But, on Dec. 11, 2005, he withdrew from both the race and the party to join Kadima. This political flip-flopping seriously dented his image, but he seems to have recovered from it well enough.
He was voted into the 17th Knesset in 2006, and served as transport minister. In 2008, with Sharon’s successor, Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, pressured to step down over corruption charges, Mofaz announced that he would run for the leadership of Kadima.
On Aug. 5, 2008, Mofaz officially threw his hat in the ring and challenged Tzipi Livni for party leadership. On Sept. 17 that year, he lost the Kadima primary by a narrow margin. Livni won by a mere 431 votes. Ever since that defeat, Mofaz has been busy laying the groundwork for his eventual second chance at the leadership.
Placed second on the Kadima list, Mofaz retained his seat in the 2009 elections, but lost his cabinet position after Kadima, headed by Livni, failed to assemble a coalition and forfeited the leadership of the country to Likud, joining the opposition.
On March 27, Mofaz, the Iranian-born immigrant and lifelong soldier, handed Livni a resounding defeat, and took over Kadima's leadership.