Barak says he will quit after next election
Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, has dropped a political bombshell, announcing he will quit politics after the January general election.
However, he refused to rule out serving again as defence minister if asked to do so by the next prime minister.
His surprise announcement at a news conference yesterday came less than a week after the end of the eight-day conflict in Gaza, an operation considered by most Israelis to have been conducted professionally by Mr Barak, who is no stranger to military conflict.
Mr Barak (70) said he would stay on as defence minister until a new government was formed, but the time had come to move on.
“I enlisted to the Israel defence forces in 1959 and I served the people of Israel for 47 years as best I could. I have exhausted my contribution to politics, which I was never entirely passionate about. This decision was not without its misgivings, but ultimately, I am at peace with it.”
He has spent much of his current stint as defence minister preparing for the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran, to thwart what Israel believes is Tehran’s drive to acquire a nuclear bomb.
Until recently he worked in close harmony with prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the issue, with some commentators describing both men as “obsessed” .
In recent months though, Mr Barak seemed to adopt a more conciliatory position, arguing that the transfer of some enriched uranium by Iran for civilian projects delayed the need for military action.
Mr Barak’s resignation will mean he will be out of the loop during the critical spring and summer months next year – the loose deadline set by Israel for action against Iran.
Israeli law allows a minister to be appointed from outside the Knesset parliament, prompting speculation that Mr Netanyahu, who is almost certain to be elected for another term as prime minister, has already promised the position to Mr Barak.
At the news conference Mr Barak denied any such deal, but, when pressed by reporters, he did not rule out the possibility of continuing as defence minister if asked to do so.
During his 36-year military career he received five citations, becoming Israel’s most decorated soldier, before being appointed chief of staff.
Six months after leaving the army in 1995 he was persuaded by then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to join the government as interior minister and was already tipped as a future prime minister.
After Rabin’s assassination, Mr Barak was appointed foreign minister. In 1997 he was elected Labour leader and defeated the Likud incumbent prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1999.
As prime minister he pulled Israeli troops out of south Lebanon, but failed to clinch a peace deal with Yasser Arafat at Camp David. In 2001 Mr Barak resigned as prime minister, lost the election to Ariel Sharon, and resigned as Labour leader.
In 2007 he made his political comeback and was appointed as defence minister under then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. Under Mr Barak’s leadership, Labour was dealt a blow in the last Knesset election, winning only 13 seats.
Last year he left Labour, taking four other Knesset members with him to form a new party, Independence. However, the latest polls showed Independence barely passing the electoral threshold.