What Prompted Mofaz’s Synagogue Mutiny?

Barely a month ago, Israeli ministers meekly watched the unfolding of prime minister Ariel Sharon’s evacuation as, one by one, the homes, businesses, farms and schools of 21 Gaza Strip communities were uprooted (most are still homeless and jobless) and the lives they created reduced to heaps of rubble.
But on Sept 11, the day of the final Israeli troop pullout, those same ministers suddenly balked at letting Israeli troops finish their task of destruction and blow up empty Gush Katif’s 24 synagogues.
Hours before the Israel flag was lowered over the territory, 14 ministers gave their support to the motion initiated overnight by defense minister Shaul Mofaz to leave the synagogues in situ come what may, a reversal of a previous decision that was endorsed last Thursday by the high court. Two Labor ministers, Haim Ramon and Ofer Paz-Pines, voted against the motion and their colleague Dalia Itzik abstained.
Seeing the way the wind was blowing, Sharon joined the majority. He admitted that leaving the houses of worship to the tender mercies of the Palestinians was the lesser of two evils.
With the fate of the synagogues sealed, there was no further bar to the ceremonies scheduled for Sunday afternoon that terminated 38 years of Israeli military rule, ceremonies that the Palestinian Authority, intransigent to the last, announced it was boycotting the day before the cabinet vote.
The synagogue issue produced another inexplicable turnabout inside the Sharon cabinet. All of a sudden, the ministers were talking piously about the importance of respecting the rabbis’ views and their sensibilities. This was a very different tune from the one they sang last month when they hurled tons of abuse at the same rabbis for speaking out against the Gaza expulsions.
What was behind these unexpected changes of heart? debkafile offers some theories.
1. Some of the ministers now admitted that expelling 10,000 Israelis from their homes last month had left a personal mark painful enough to deter them from further national shocks.
2. For some too deeply buried Jewish instincts held their hand against forcing young Israeli soldiers to commit an act that would outrage many. They may even have sensed an atavistic fear of a reckoning one day with their Maker.
3. The ministers’ wooden acceptance of the evacuations may have cracked when they heard their prime minister refer cynically to “structures that once served as synagogues?”
4. Or perhaps it was about politics. The elected may have sought to store a saving grace against the moment when they needed to confront an electorate whose psyche has been scarred by the chilling efficiency of the evacuations.
The most intriguing question is what led Shaul Mofaz to raise the flag of mutiny against the prime minister. For eighteen months, his obedience has been almost machinelike. He activated the army against Israeli civilians for the first time in its history, lent a hand to the purging of the high command and tied the hands of military intelligence, lest they obstruct Sharon’s disengagement plans for Gaza Strip.
He claims truthfully that his observant religious background held him back from sending Jews to destroy synagogues. But looking beyond this claim, debkafile‘s analysts find a more likely cause: he felt his loyalty had been rewarded with a kick in the teeth when Sharon last week abruptly snatched security responsibility for the Gaza Strip from the defense ministry and handed it to vice prime minister, Labor leader Shimon Peres.
Gaza Strip will hardly become a utopia any time soon, rather a sanctuary for a broad range of terrorists. Yet Sharon has put in place a new arrangement that will force the defense minister and chief of staff to go running to the dovish Peres each time the evacuated Gaza Strip is used as a Palestinian firing position or terrorist base against Israeli targets. Halutz has spoken of a new response policy, firm, rapid actions to halt attacks, including artillery fire, regardless of their source.
This is not the Peres way, as Sharon knows very well. Yet he has once again broken new ground, becoming the first Israeli prime minister to place a political barrier in the path of the national defense machine.
That step, and another, provoked the he defense minister into fighting back.
The other is more personal. When Binyamin Netanyahu quit as finance minister and challenged Sharon for the leadership of their Likud party, Mofaz was certain he was in line as Sharon’s crown prince and political mainstay. Instead, Sharon coolly passed him over in favor of – again – the Labor leader Shimon Peres.
By this move, Sharon has trumped Netanyahu’s ace. Instead of dividing the party between himself and his challenger, Sharon has forced the majority to choose between him and splitting the party in favor of his two rivals, Netanyahu and Uzi Landau. To woo the party round, Sharon is promising there will be no more evacuations. But his choice of the Oslo peace accords architect Shimon Peres as his partner points him in the opposite direction.
The only reason he voted for Mofaz’s motion to leave the synagogues intact was to avoid being lumped with the minority in his own cabinet – but also because he knows that the synagogue issue is irrelevant to his future plans.

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