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Sunday, 3 November, 2002, 11:03 GMT
Profile: Israeli defence chief Shaul Mofaz
Shaul Mofaz
Mofaz has a reputation as a tough leader

The appointment of Shaul Mofaz as Israel's new defence minister may herald a sharp shift to the right after the collapse of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition with Labor.

A staunch nationalist, General Mofaz was unusually outspoken as a chief-of-staff, at times appearing more hawkish than Mr Sharon in his attitude towards the Palestinians.

Arafat is at the head of the Palestinian Authority, which encourages, finances and trains terrorists. In these conditions, it would be better if he were expelled

Shaul Mofaz

For the past two years, General Mofaz, has been in charge of fighting the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, adopting increasingly tough tactics, which have alarmed left-wing critics and human rights groups.

Under Mr Mofaz's command, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have stepped up demolitions of Palestinian suicide bombers' homes and blockades of Palestinian towns and villages.

The IDF has also carried out dozens of "targeted killings" of leading Palestinian militants.

The Iranian-born former paratrooper has made no secret of his contempt for the Palestinian Authority (PA).

He has repeatedly advocated Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's expulsion from the Palestinian territories.

He was recorded unawares at a press conference in April, 2002, telling Mr Sharon: "We should kick him [Mr Arafat] out".

General Mofaz compared the intifada to the 11 September attacks on the United States and branded the PA a "terrorist entity".

Military force

As the intifada intensified, General Mofaz oversaw the biggest Israeli military offensive since Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Yasser Arafat
Mofaz advocates Yasser Arafat's expulsion

In March, 2002, General Mofaz sent thousands of troops into the West Bank, repeating the exercise three months later after a spate of deadly suicide attacks by Palestinian militants.

As chief-of-staff, General Mofaz directed some of Israel's most controversial military operations.

These included:

  • The March 2002 assault on Jenin, where Palestinians claim a massacre took place - though UN officials later denied this

  • The demolition of Mr Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah

  • The dropping of a one-tonne bomb on a Gaza apartment block in July, 2002, which killed a leading Palestinian militant and 14 civilians.

    The intifada, however, exposed Israel's army to the scrutiny of the world's media and cast a spotlight on its treatment of the Palestinians.

    The army was accused in some quarters of using excessive force and Palestinian and Israeli left-wing groups have called for Mr Mofaz to be prosecuted for war crimes.

    Illustrious career

    General Mofaz's move into politics follows a long military career, in which he has been credited with helping to transform the Israeli army into the Middle East's mightiest fighting force.

    Israeli soldiers outside Ramallah
    Mofaz commanded Israel's takeover of the West Bank

    Born in 1948, the year of Israel's creation, Mr Mofaz emigrated to Israel with his family at the age of nine.

    He joined the IDF in 1966 at the age of 18 and fought as a paratrooper in the Sinai desert in the Middle East War the following year.

    In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Mr Mofaz commanded an elite unit of paratroopers and participated in Israel's most audacious hostage rescue operation in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.

    General Mofaz commanded an infantry brigade when Israel's then-defence minister Ariel Sharon orchestrated Israel invasion of Lebanon, and oversaw their bloodless withdrawal in May 2002 as Israel's chief-of-staff.

    General Mofaz left the army in July, 2002, when his four-year term as commander officially expired.

    The BBC's James Reynolds reports from Jerusalem
    "He is five seats short of a parliamentary majority"
    Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak
    "This should not be taken out of proportion"

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