By Uri Dan

Former defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai is the most recent classic case of a political opportunist who is tempted to believe everything the media says about him and loses all sense of proportion regarding his true worth.

The newspapers called him "a statesman, a considered strategist, on whom peace depends." Television and radio broadcasts repeatedly reported ­ almost always relying on anonymous sources ­ that Mordechai had blocked numerous military adventures the prime minister had planned. The members of the media, most of whom make no secret of their hatred for the Likud government, inflated Mordechai's ego. Mordechai, in turn, acted as if he'd forgotten that these journalists were essentially reporting what his own public relations people were feeding them. His spokesman, Avi Benayahu, who is known to have leftist roots, indeed did good work, painting Mordechai as a diplomatic Popeye and security Gulliver, depictions that had no basis in reality.

And Mordechai began acting as if he believed his own publicity. His ego swelled to balloon­like proportions, until Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, by firing him on a live TV broadcast, stuck a pin in it.

Mordechai was so secure with what the papers were writing about him that he allowed himself to do things that are forbidden in a democracy. The Likud minister, for several weeks, conducted both covert and overt talks with the Labor Party, as well as with those whose blind ambition is to overthrow Netanyahu ­ Dan Meridor, Ronni Milo, and Amnon Lipkin­Shahak.

He was trying to figure out where it most paid for him to be. Stay in the Likud? Fine, but he demanded a signed agreement from Netanyahu securing his status. Join the others? Maybe, but only if they'd let him head their list, so he could demand for himself no less than the prime minister's post.

At the same time, in a blatant public­relations ploy, he managed to secure for himself an invitation from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. All this went on when he was still defense minister and a member of the Likud. He really believed that Netanyahu wouldn't dare do anything to him, since, after all, he was such a popular figure, an outstanding statesman and a superior strategist.

Mordechai forgot that he was popular primarily because he was defense minister. The position made him; he did not make the position.

Mordechai was a good fighter on the battlefield, exhibiting personal bravery. But the battle he is particularly proud of ­ when he commanded the battalion that engaged the Egyptians at the so­called Chinese Farm in the Sinai in October 1973 ­ though a brave battle, served no real purpose, led to many casualties, and generated the sad joke: "Mordechai fought there until the last Chinaman fell."

Mordechai is also proud of the fact that he is the only general to have commanded the Southern, Central and Northern commands. But so what? He didn't leave his particular mark in any of these posts; during his stint as OC Northern Command, for example, the ongoing war in Lebanon was conducted in the same routine and stupid fashion.

In fact, the chief of General Staff at the time, one Amnon Shahak, wouldn't agree to appoint Mordechai his deputy, a disappointment that forced Mordechai out of the IDF and led him to pursue a political career.

Funny ­ now this same Shahak is telling us that the man that he didn't think was worthy of being his deputy, is nonetheless fit to be Israel's prime minister. Perhaps it would be funny, except that now Mordechai, as the political commander of the centrist party, and Shahak, as his deputy, are insisting they are worthy of leading the country.

If Mordechai truly was a statesman, instead of acting like a petty political activist who'd gotten caught with his pants down last Saturday night, he would have learned something from some of the great political battles of the past.

Take Moshe Dayan, a leader with a history of military and diplomatic accomplishments a hundred times greater than Mordechai's; he set up his own party in 1981 to run against Menachem Begin and barely got two Knesset seats. Ezer Weizman did something similar in 1984 against Yitzhak Shamir, and met with similar "success."

What does Mordechai have in his kit bag to sell us that could be any better than what Dayan and Weizman had to offer in their time? Soon it will be clear that he has far less, and the Israeli public will be the beneficiaries, since Mordechai will no longer be defense minister.

Because as defense minister, nothing commanded more of his attention than his own image.

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