A Political Storm on Israel's Horizon

Israeli politics is in the eye of the hurricane, but the calm won't last long.

After corruption allegations forced Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to announce that he would resign following an internal party primary to replace him, the political calendar is gearing up for the aftermath of the September 17th vote. No one knows for sure whether snap elections will be held or whether a new coalition will be formed that could postpone elections for up to two years.

While only two candidates -- Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Defense Minister and current Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz -- have any hope of succeeding Olmert, two others are vying for the throne. Though long time pol Meir Shetreet and Minister of Internal Security Avi Dichter have little chance, their presence in the race, combined with a party rule that requires a candidate to garner at least 40% of the vote, may force a run-off a week later. In the past, such minor candidates have dropped out of the race at the last minute, avoiding an embarrassing defeat and instead assuming the role of kingmaker.

Whatever happens, by September 24, either Livni or Mofaz will take the reins of Kadima. While Livni leads in the polls by a substantial margin, a lot of the smart money is on Mofaz. To many, this race looks like a repeat of the Labor leadership contest in 2005. Then, a very popular Shimon Peres was stunned on election day when a double-digit lead in the polls didn't help against a better organized Amir Peretz. With an estimated 40,000 primary voters deciding this contest, organization should prove decisive. Edge to Mofaz.

If Mofaz wins, his only viable option is to form a coalition because if he fails to do so, he will face an election that he will almost certainly lose to Benjamin Netanyahu . The prospects of forging that coalition increased considerably two weeks ago when Labor leader Ehud Barak picked up the morning paper and saw that his party would win 12 or 13 seats in new elections, down from 19 in the current Knesset.