In a dramatic announcement today, Ehud Barak announced he was quitting politics:
“I have decided to resign from politics and I will not be running in the [upcoming] elections,” Barak told reporters at his office in the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. “I enlisted to the IDF in 1959 and I served the people of Israel for 47 years as well as I could.”
The defense minister reassured reporters that he would remain in his post until the establishment of the next government, following the Jan. 22 elections and then “I will free up time to focus on my family.”
“I have exhausted my contribution to politics, which I was never entirely passionate about, and I feel that I must make way for others to man senior political positions. Turnover in positions of power is a good thing,” Barak said, explaining the decision that took most Israelis by surprise.
“This decision was not without its misgivings, but ultimately, I am at peace with it,” he declared.
“Thus I complete seven and a half years in the Defense Ministry, spanning three governments, one of them under my own leadership,” he said.
“During these years, I led a systematic rehabilitation, bolstering the long arm and dealing with the Iranian threat, pushing Iron Dome and the other anti-missile interceptors and ensuring a deep diplomatic and military cooperation with the Americans,” Barak said.
“I want to thank from the bottom of my heart the IDF commanders, both in compulsory service and career soldiers, the people of the Defense Ministry and the members of the intelligence community, who allowed me to fulfill my duties as defense minister successfully. I am proud to have led such wonderful people. I want to thank the prime minister and my colleagues in the government, as well as my devoted friends in the Independence Party leadership, who gave me a lot of strength for many years and for long hours,” Barak added.
“In the coming three months, we will continue to face every challenge, and I assure you, there will be many,” he concluded.
Reactions from the Israeli political sphere were fairly predictable, with only the Jewish Home Party (formerly National Religous Party) head Naftali Bennett surprising people with his reaction:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he “respects” Barak’s decision to retire. Netanyahu thanked Barak for his “cooperation in the government, and his greatly esteemed contributions over many years to the security of the state,” according to a statement published by his office.
Barak, who has served as defense minister for the last five years, first under the centrist government of Ehud Olmert and currently under Netanyahu’s more hawkish rule, was seen as a security expert and dovish stalwart who slowly drifted rightward.
Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich wished Barak success in his new life and expressed regret at his retiring from politics, which is to take effect when the next government is formed after January’s elections. She called Barak “the most decorated soldier in the world, one of the most highly regarded [in the realm of] international security and [someone] who contributed to the army and state security more than the public will ever know. He brought his vast experience to the Defense Ministry, where he used good judgment and professionalism.”
Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, also new, issued a statement thanking Barak for his “many years in civil service, security and defense.”
Barak’s fellow Independence party MK Einat Wilf praised his ”tremendous contribution to the security of the state of Israel,” adding that despite his departure from political life, “I have no doubt that Barak will continue to contribute substantially to Israel’s foreign policy and security strategy.”
Right wingers, however, took the opportunity to lambaste Barak for his left-wing policies as prime minister and defense minister.
“Good riddance,” said new far-right party Otzma Leyisrael (Power to Israel), headed by MK Michael Ben Ari, in a statement. “Now Netanyahu and Liberman will approve all construction projects in the West Bank… or prove that Barak was just a fig leaf, and the prime minister is responsible for the harassment of the settlers.”
Minister Yuli Edelstein said that Barak would be remembered in Israel as the “worst” defense minister in regards to the settlements.
National Union MK Uri Ariel added that “Barak’s resignation from politics is a blessing for the settlement enterprise… Barak worked constantly and unjustly against settlers and the settlements.”
“Good riddance to this punishment,” said Likud MK Danny Danon. “After Barak understood that he will not receive a reserved spot on the Likud list, he faced up to his lack of relevance in the political arena and chose to retire from political life, rather than have the people do it for him.”
Danon, who is competing on Monday for a spot on Likud’s list, said he expects Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert to follow Barak’s example and not “embarrass themselves with another defeat.”
In contrast, Bennett, the incoming chairman of the right wing Jewish Home party, thanked Barak for his many years of service to the state of Israel. “Ehud Barak is a man of many merits and amazing contributions to the state. Many of us owe our lives to him,” he said.
On the far left, MK Dov Khenin, chairman of the Hadash party, welcomed the news of Barak’s imminent retirement. “I welcome the resignation of Barak, who made possible the existence of the most extreme right-wing government in Israel’s history,” he wrote on Twitter. “He will not be able to free himself from this heavy historical responsibility.”
MK Zahav Gal-on, head of the Meretz party, said that Barak “played a dual role” in the political system. She praised him as a “buffer against extreme measures,” but said that he sometimes was “actually the one who led them, pushed them.”
Even the terrorists in Gaza felt they had something to say about Barak’s resignation announcement:
Gaza-based terror organization Hamas also issued a statement through the Palestinian media, attributing Barak’s resignation to his “failure in the Gaza Strip” during the recent Israel-Hamas hostilities. Islamic Jihad, a Shiite group, said that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak left political life after his defeat in the war in the Gaza Strip.”
Yisrael Hayom gives us a potted biography of Ehud Barak and explains how he was respected as a soldier but reviled as a politician:
Ehud Barak was born in 1942 in Mishmar Hasharon, a kibbutz north of Tel Aviv. Upon graduating from high school in 1959, he joined the Israel Defense Forces, where he served in the General Staff’s elite reconnaissance unit, Sayeret Matkal. He participated in the 1967 and 1973 wars, as well as in some of his unit’s most daring raids, among them the rescue operation on board the hijacked Sabena airplane in 1972 in which Barak was dressed as a technician to deceive the terrorists. In 1973, Barak’s unit assassinated top PLO officials in Lebanon in Operation Spring of Youth. During that operation, Barak and several other commandos were disguised as women.
Barak would go on to rise in the military chain of command until his appointment as IDF chief of the general staff in 1991. Barak was the most decorated Israeli soldier at the time, having been awarded more than four military honors.
In 1999, as head of a new political bloc, One Israel, he unseated incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in what was an electoral landslide.
A year later, true to his campaign pledge, he unilaterally withdrew IDF forces from southern Lebanon, despite pressure from the IDF and some in the political world who warned that the move would hurt Israel’s standing and deterrence.
Barak was voted out of office in 2001, shortly after the outbreak of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising. The Israeli electorate blamed him for making far-reaching concessions in his negotiations with PLO leader Yasser Arafat over the future of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip in an effort that ultimately failed to produce peace. They overwhelmingly supported his Likud challenger, Ariel Sharon.
After a six-year hiatus, Barak returned as defense minister and deputy prime minister in 2007, after reassuming leadership of the Labor party. In the 2009 elections, Labor won only 13 seats (down from 19), but he led the party into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, keeping the title of defense minister. In 2011, in the face of increasing dissent from within his party ranks, he created a new Knesset faction, Independence. During his tenure at the Defense Ministry, he presided over the most recent Israeli military offensives in the Gaza Strip — Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 and Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. His performance in both campaigns shored up his popularity as defense minister, but he has never fully recovered from his crushing defeat in 2001.
This article does not mention his extreme unpopularity with Israel’s right wing for encouraging and enforcing the settlement freeze in 2009 which contributed to his controversial reputation.
Meanwhile, in related news, the Likud party held its primaries yesterday and today (today was an extra day of voting due to many technical malfunctions in the voting system yesterday), and the results are in: the party has swung to the right with many moderate old-timers out and younger, more right-wing members voted in:
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar was the top vote-getter in the Likud primary elections, which concluded with a clear wictory for the ruling party’s right-wing branch.
The unofficial results indicate that the ruling party has shifted to the right, with moderates such as ministers Benny Begin and Dan Meridor failing to secure a realistic spot on Likud’s list ahead of the general elections in January.
The first 20 spots are considered realistic.
According to unofficial results, Minister Gilad Erdan placed second in the primaries. He is followed by Silvan Shalom. Yisrael Katz, Danny Danon, Reuven Rivlin, Moshe Ya’alon, Zeev Elkin, Yariv Levin and Minister Yuli Edelstein, who closed out the top 10.
Haim Katz won the 11th spot on Likud’s national list, while Tzipi Hotovely, the first woman on the list, and Miri Regev secured the 12th and 13th slots, respectively.
In addition to Begin and Meridor, ministers Avi Dichter and Michael Eitan also failed to gain a spot in the top 20.
The unofficial line-up is as follows:
- Gidon Sa’ar
- Gilad Erdan
- Silvan Shalom
- Yisrael Katz
- Danny Danon
- Reuven Rivlin
- Moshe Ya’alon
- Ze’ev Elkin
- Yariv Levin
- Yuli Edelstein
- Haim Katz
- Tzipi Hotovely
- Miri Regev
- Moshe Feiglin
- Yuval Steinitz
- Tzachi Hanegbi
- Limor Livnat
- Ofir Akunis
- Gila Gamliel
Speaking to Ynet after the vote, Danon said “I respect all the people who found themselves off the list, but it’s a generational thing. There is new blood in Likud’s leadership.”
MK Hotovely told Ynet: “I deeply regret the fact that Benny Begin won’t be in the party. I looked up to those people and learned from them.”
Adressing the results, Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich said, “The list chosen, accompanied by (Avigdor) Lieberman’s extremists who will be part of it, makes the Likud a radical right-wing party.”
Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On commented on the results of the Likud primaries, saying: “I see the Likud list and it makes me feel bad. We see how settlers have turned the Likud into a nationalistic, extremist rightwing list; how the liberal Likud has passed away today.”
The Yesh Atid Party, chaired by Yair Lapid, stated that “The Likud has presented a worrying list that revolves around ‘old politics’ deals and ideological extremism.”
“This is no longer the Likud of Menachem Begin and national politics; whoever votes for the Likud-Beiteinu list will get a branch of the National Union Party,” the Yesh Atid statement read.
I view this Likud list with mixed feelings. On the personal level I am very happy that so many people with political views similar to my own have been elected to realistic positions on the Likud list.
On the other hand, this list will lead to only greater polarisation of the Israeli political sphere. We already have more than one right-wing party, with National Union, Jewish Home, Otzma, and Yisrael Beitenu – which has now joined forces with Likud. This leaves very little choice for the centrist and right-of-center Israeli voter. I am not sure this is good for Israeli society.
We won’t find out for sure until the January general elections are over.