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Former Israeli defense chief wins centrist party vote

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Iranian-born former military chief and defense minister Shaul Mofaz has been waiting more than three years for another chance to take the helm of the centrist Kadima Party.

After accomplishing that mission in Tuesday’s primary, he now faces an uphill battle in leading Kadima back to power.

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Mofaz defeated the current party leader, Tzipi Livni, in Tuesday’s primary by a wide margin. Preliminary results showed Mofaz soundly defeating Livni. With 95 percent of the votes counted, Mofaz held a lead early Wednesday of 62 percent to 38 percent for Livni.

Official results are expected Wednesday morning, but Israeli TV stations have declared Mofaz the winner after building an insurmountable lead over Livni.

But his campaign slogan, “Mofaz. Prime Minister,’’ belies the sorry state of Israel’s largest party, which polls show would be drubbed if national elections were held today.

Mofaz is best known to international audiences for tough tactics he adopted as military chief and defense minister during the Palestinian uprising last decade. Four years ago, he briefly rattled global oil markets by saying Israel would attack Iran as a last resort if it did not abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. But in recent years, he has tried to remake his image in a more statesmanlike mold, proposing the immediate establishment of a provisional Palestinian state and addressing socioeconomic issues and women’s rights.

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