JERUSALEM – Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who took over after Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke Wednesday, is a seasoned operator and Sharon confidante who is comfortable in cutthroat local politics and in world capitals alike.
Like Sharon, his mentor in recent years, Olmert underwent a political transformation from hawk to moderate, from backing Israeli control of all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with constant settlement expansion to helping Sharon lead Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank in the summer.
Olmert, 60, a longtime ally of Sharon in the hardline Likud Party — which both quit in November — gained governing experience in his decade as mayor of Jerusalem, one of Israel's most sensitive jobs, balancing conflicting Jewish and Palestinian interests and wrestling with constant budget shortfalls by raising money abroad.
Olmert was born in 1945 in the town of Binyamina in northern Israel. His military service included a stint as an officer in an infantry unit and later as a reporter for the Israeli army journal.
He earned his bachelor's degree in psychology and philosophy and later a law degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and worked briefly as a lawyer before entering politics.
He was first elected to parliament in 1973, at the age of 28. In 1988, he became a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's government and in 1990 was promoted to health minister.
In 1993, he was elected mayor of Jerusalem, defeating the legendary Teddy Kollek, who had run the city for nearly four decades.
In 1999, he challenged Ariel Sharon for leadership of the Likud Party. He lost badly, but since his defeat became increasingly closer to Sharon and in recent years has generally been considered the prime minister's most loyal political ally.
In 2003, he left Jerusalem City Hall to serve in Sharon's second government. He was appointed vice premier and minister of industry, trade and labor. Following the resignation of Benjamin Netanyahu in August, he took over as finance minister.
Married and a father of four, Olmert lives in Jerusalem and is known to be a die-hard fan of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club.