Defection linked to strike on Iran, says Kadima leader


SHAUL MOFAZ, the leader of the centrist Kadima party, says the defection of one of his party’s senior figures to the ruling Likud party is an attempt by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to secure a majority for an Israeli military strike against Iran.

Tzachi Hanegbi, an outspoken advocate of an Israeli attack to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, announced he was quitting Kadima and returning to the Likud in response to Mr Mofaz’s decision last week to pull Kadima out of the government after Likud and Kadima failed to strike a deal on a new military draft Bill to include ultra-Orthodox Jews.

It is expected that Mr Hanegbi, who was a leading Likud politician before he joined Kadima, along with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2005, will be given a ministerial portfolio and a seat in the inner security cabinet, where key strategic decisions are taken.

An attempt by Mr Hanegbi, who is not a Knesset member, to split Kadima failed. Only four Kadima lawmakers agreed to join him in defecting to the Likud in return for generous offers of government positions, short of the minimum seven Knesset members required for such a move.

In a speech to the Knesset, Mr Mofaz hinted that Mr Netanyahu plans to attack Iran, but said Kadima would not co-operate. “Kadima will not set out on operational adventures that will endanger the future of our young women and young men and the future of the citizens of Israel in the state of Israel,” he said.

Mr Mofaz said the defection was much worse than political bribery.

“There was something even more severe – the exploitation of the holy of holies – state security. And believe me, I know what I’m talking about.” Although both Mr Netanyahu and defence minister Ehud Barak favour a military strike against Iran, other senior ministers, along with some top generals, are opposed.

According to Israeli media reports, the eight-member inner security cabinet is said to be evenly split and adding Mr Hanegbi to the forum could tip the balance.

Some commentators went even further and argued that because Mr Netanyahu failed to persuade Mr Mofaz to back an attack on Iran, Kadima’s presence in the coalition became expendable, and this was the real reason why Kadima quit last week, after only two months in the coalition.