TEL AVIV -- A war between magicians is raging in Israel, pitting Uri Geller and his aura of supernatural powers against those who see in him nothing but an unending lust for fame.

Geller, the world-famous Israeli spoon-bender, decided last year to do a television program in Israel in order to name an heir.

"Uri Geller Looks for a Successor" was an instant hit - with viewer ratings of nearly 40 percent. More than 1 million people tune in to see conjurers compete by performing stunts ranging from stopping watches to reading minds.

In an interview, Geller insisted that the prime-time show does not involve sleight of hand - and that the participants do actually have supernatural powers capable of performing marvels.

"I am not a magician and have never been one," Geller said in his Tel Aviv hotel suite. He once claimed that he could see in his mind a drawing scribbled by a passenger aboard an airborne jet. "I keep my powers mysterious. When I was young I used to say I had supernatural powers. Today I tell people 'you make up your mind. I won't deny or confirm anything.'"

The thin, 60-year-old millionaire, who lives in a mansion outside London, said that his TV show is a source of both enjoyment and distraction from hard reality for Israelis.

"The success of the show is due to the tense atmosphere in the country and the war in Lebanon," he said. "People want entertainment but also hope."

When a successor is selected at the end of January, Geller says that he wants to turn him "into a new ambassador of goodwill on Israel's behalf, just like what I have been doing for years."

But not long after the show first aired, dozens of magicians in Israel and abroad cried foul.

Dandi Asraf, a veteran Israeli magician, said that he sees through the "Successor" TV show.

"It's entertaining. But obviously everything is tricks and stunts. There are no supernatural powers. There is no magic - it does not exist in this world."

Another magician, Eliron Toby, said that he was sad "that such a man has for so many years been able to fool so many people. He contradicts the saying that you can't fool all of the people all the time."

"The Successor has damaged those people who want to believe that Geller can heal or help them," Toby added.

Now the Israeli Society for Magicians will assemble next week to decide what to do.

Born to a poor family in Tel Aviv, Geller says that he realized while very young that he had special powers.

But his global fame came not just because he bent thousands of spoons or stopped London's Big Ben clock by the power of thought. Geller has also made millions through paranormal performances of telekinesis and dowsing - the ability to locate gold and oil using special powers.

He says that he has helped the CIA and Israel's Mossad spy agencies with secret missions and also aided police in the United States to track down serial killers.

James Randi, an American and an international authority on debunking alleged paranormal powers, has blasted the Israeli magicians' society for not yet coming out against Geller.

"Uri Geller insists on saying that he has supernatural powers, and now he is manipulating the Israeli public," he wrote last week in a letter to Dalia Peled, president of the society. "It is difficult for me to believe that the president of the society of magicians believes in all of Geller's spoon-bending and compass-moving. If she believes that, she should be referred to children's magic books.

"But if she understands that at issue is sleight of hand, I find her behavior to be unethical and damaging to the magic profession."

Peled responded that "the society hopes and believes the public understands that this is an entertainment program and that the acts performed in the show are not done so with the help of supernatural powers."

Controversy has often surrounded Geller. In 1973 he failed to bend spoons on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show" in the United States, claiming that his powers had been weakened.

Scientists are split over whether Geller does possess special powers. He underwent two major tests at Stanford University in 1973 and later at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science. The results were inconclusive, and skeptics claimed that the methodology was flawed.

Geller coolly insists that the controversy surrounding both himself and his TV show is a blessing.

"There is no such thing as bad PR in the world. Anyone who can create controversy around him is great. The cynics and magicians who have come out against me have done a great job worth millions," he said.

"It has made Uri Geller more mysterious and has created a mystical aura around me."

His successor is expected to be revealed in a couple of weeks.