Defense Minister Ehud Barak is quitting politics. In a dramatic announcement, he said he decided to end his career and claimed successes as Defense Minister, a post he will leave when the next government is formed after the January 22 elections. However, he still could be appointed as Defense Minister without being in the Knesset.
He scotched rumors swirling in Israeli media that he was going to join former Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni to join a new center-left party.
Virtually all polls have shown that his Independence party, which he formed after quitting Labor, might not win enough votes to win Knesset representation. Barak, now 70 years old, said the reason he is leaving politics is to spend more time with his family.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he respects the Defense Minister’s decision to leave politics following the January elections. Netanyahu thanked Barak, in a statement, for his cooperation in the government, and expressed his appreciation for Barak’s contributions to the security of the state over the years.
Barak’s absence from politics will be applauded by nationalists, whom he has thwarted repeatedly by ordering middle-of-the-night expulsions of Jewish families, including women and babies, from their homes in outposts. Barak also has continuously blocked plans for building new homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria.
Knesset Member Danny Danon of the Likud party responded to the announcement by stating, “Thank G-d we are rid of him.”
Barak previously quit politics “forever” after his dismal loss to Ariel Sharon in the 2001 elections. He later returned to politics as head of the Labor party and then quit it last year to form the Independence faction, taking with him less than half a dozen supporters and leaving Knesset Member Shelly Yechimovich in charge of the party.
Ehud Barak is a former IDF Chief of Staff and was a highly decorated soldier and officer. He is known for daring stunts as an elite commando, once wearing a blond wig to pose as a woman in order to pass through enemy lines in Lebanon on the way to eliminate terrorists.
Barak entered the political arena in 1995 as Interior Minister in the government of Yitzchak Rabin and was later appointed Foreign Minister. After heading the Labor party in 1997 and defeating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the 1999 elections, he displayed serious political liabilities, which have dogged him ever since.
After only 18 months in office, Barak lost his solid majority coalition amidst frustration over failed policies. However, mainstream media still praise him for his ordering the sudden withdrawal of the IDF from the southern Lebanon security zone, a move that left a vacuum which Hizbullah handily filled.
Without in-the-field intelligence, Israel was surprised by Hizbullah’s military capacity in the Second Lebanon War, which cost the country unexpectedly high military casualties due to inadequate tank protection against advanced Russian-made anti-tank missiles.
After a landslide victory by Ariel Sharon over Barak in the 2001 elections, Barak resigned “forever” from politics. He returned in 2007 and won the Labor party leadership but saw his party’s strength sink from 18 Knesset seats to only 13 in the current Knesset, before he split the party and formed his own faction.
While Israeli officials were divided in their reactions to Barak’s resignation from politics, Gaza Arab terrorists were unambiguous in their feelings; they celebrated the announcement in Gaza Monday by shooting into the air and singing songs calling for the destruction of Israel, claiming that they had “chased” Barak away with their “bravery” while under Israeli attack during Operation Pillar of Cloud.
Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said that it was clear that Barak was leaving because he was unable to stand up to Hamas. “The decision proves Barak’s failure in leading Pillar of Defense, and the failure of Israel to achieve its goals during the operation.”
The Hamas terrorist spokesperson was joined by a spokesperson for the Islamic Jihad terror group, Abu Ahmed, who said that “when Barak made his announcement, he admitted that he had failed miserably against the Gaza resistance, and its high quality attacks that have shocked Tel Aviv.”
For totally different reasons than Hamas, Israel’s nationalist politicians are pleased with the news that Barak is leaving politics.
Ichud Leumi (National Union) Chairman Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh) said Monday that Barak’s presence in the government had always been “unnatural.” Ketzaleh said that it was “the painful split” in the religious Zionist political camp that made it possible to push the Ichud Leumi out of the coalition, despite the fact that it was the natural partner to Likud. As a result, Barak joined the coalition and brought his anti-settlement policies with him.
Ketzaleh explained that things will change now that the religious camp is running in a joint list. “With the joint Ichud Leumi – Bayit Yehudi party as the main pillar of the next government and its source of courage, a new age will be heralded in which bravery and security replace weakness and defeat.”
Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said, “Today is Likud’s independence day. Barak will go down in the history of Israel’s governments as the worst defense minister that the Jewish settlement enterprise ever had.”
“Barak’s behavior is full of political and egotistic considerations, and he does all this on the backs of the settlers,” Edelstein accused.
Likud Minister Gilad Erdan said that Barak had contributed to national security over many years, “and when people like that leave, it is a sad thing.” However, he added, “I prefer that the defense minister in the next government will have a nationalist approach.”
MKs Michael Ben Ari and Aryeh Eldad of Power for Israel called on the government to approve all of the construction projects in Judea and Samaria that Barak, who had to sign building permits as Defense Minister, has been blocking for years. Otherwise, they said, “this will prove that Barak was just a fig leaf and that the prime minister is responsible for the ill treatment of the settlers.”
Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) Chairman Naftali Bennett noted that Barak has made a huge contribution to the state “and many of us owe him our lives.” He added, though, that these days are “the last days of the old politics, which caused us, the reservist soldiers, and the residents of the South, to feel great sorrow only last week.”
“I call on Netanyahu to announce that the next government will have a defense minister who is committed to defense and security for Israel without compromise,” Bennett declared. The brave residents of the South deserve this.”
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