By Gordon Thomas
Friday, January 26, 2007
Naturally blonde with eyes as blue as the Mediterranean over which her bedroom looks, Tzipi Livni still knows how to cut a concealed opening in her skirt or dress to reach for the Beretta handgun she once carried inside her pants.
Her high IQ -- she consistently registered 140 in tests -- and her natural skill with a gun -- learned when she grew up on her Polish father's farm in Israel - together with her general knowledge and social skills, made her an ideal recruit for Mossad.
At its training school Tzipi mastered the art of sitting on a chair in a darkened room and firing off a clip of bullets at a target flashing across a screen. Or breaking into an office to steal secrets.
Meir Amit, a former director-general of Mossad, has explained to me what Tzipi's training would have included.
"She would have been asked questions about her attitude to using her sex. Would she sleep with a stranger if her mission demanded it? She would have learned how to use sex to coerce, seduce and dominate. She would be told that using her sex for the good of Israel is permissible. But all Mossad women agents are high-minded women who know the risks involved. That takes a special kind of courage. It is not so much a question of sleeping with someone. It is to lead a man to believe she will do so in return for what he has to tell her. That does not begin to describe the great skills which are called upon to achieve this".
Today Tzipi Livni will not discuss any of the skills she used as a Mossad spy. But Cheryl Ben-Tov, the Mossad agent who played a role in kidnapping Mordechai Vanunu in London, has said that Tzipi was "like all of us, good at her job".
To do so required steel nerves, which made her a top Mossad agent. Now that steel could be called upon again if she replaces embattled Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert as the country's leader.
Olmert, 61, is facing not only severe criticism for the way he mishandled last year's war in Lebanon, but a separate corruption scandal. Already his chief of the Israeli Defence Forces, Lt-Gen Dan Halutz, has resigned. And politicians on the Left and Right of the Israeli spectrum are demanding that Olmert should make way for Tzipi Livni.
Then it will be Tzipi's finger on a trigger far more lethal than the handgun she can still handle. It will be her ultimate decision, when all political efforts have failed, to launch the air power of Israel in an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
That possibility draws ever closer with the growing evidence of North Korea's help to Iran on nuclear weapons development.
As physically fit and alert as those days when she was sent on dangerous missions around the world by Mossad, Tzipi has today -- at 48 and the mother of two -- become an icon for all middle-aged women who want to look stylish without power dressing.
A protege of Ariel Sharon, she became a founder member of his Kadima party. Her lawyer's skills were invaluable in helping Kadima come to power. She also played a key part in Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.
When Ehud Olmert replaced Sharon as prime minister, he appointed Tzipi as Foreign Minister. It gave her a crucial place on the world stage. Condoleeza Rice constantly sought her advice on the Middle East. Other foreign ministers queued for appointments -- including Tony Blair. George Bush gave her open-door access for her regular visits to Washington.
But she never forgot the importance of maintaining contacts with the secret intelligence world that has so shaped her life.
In her new role as deputy prime minister of Israel, she has made it a priority to meet the spy chiefs, Sir John Scarlett of MI6, General Michael Hayden of the CIA and the heads of Europe's secret services.
Between them they continue to brief her on the threat that Iran poses. But the fine detail has come from the intelligence chief Tzipi admires most -- Meir Dagan, Mossad's director-general.
Like her he is tough and non-composing -- and ready to go to war with Iran should all else fail.
But it was also he who encouraged Tzipi to hold secret talks with Syria to try and bring peace to Lebanon and present a united front against Hezbollah. Those discussions continue.
Meantime she is also busy -- often working late in her bedroom with its view of the Mediterranean -- to create a new plan to bring peace with the Palestinians.
If that fails then she is ready to, as one friend said, "crack the whip".
She has already criticised what she calls the "boys club atmosphere at the top level of Israeli decision making. Sometimes there are too many 'guy issues' in all kinds of discussions. I hear arguments between generals and admirals and I say 'guys, stop it'".
But increasingly it looks as if no one can stop Tzipi Livni becoming Israel's first female leader since Golda Meir.
� Gordon Thomas 2007