On Shabbat, November 4, 1995, Ehud Barak and I were in New York. Entirely by chance, we were staying on the same floor of the same hotel. When I returned to the hotel that afternoon after an event at the consulate, I saw Barak and his aides congregated at the entrance of their suite. "What are you celebrating?" I asked. Barak, with a serious expression, looked me straight in the eye and asked, "What, haven't you heard? Rabin was assassinated."
After the shock and the questions - how did it happen, what and who - Barak asked me to come into his room, and asked if I knew what happened to a government in such a situation. Does it become a transition government where nobody enters or leaves, and if so, can ministers change portfolios? Unfortunately, I didn't have an answer, but from what I understood from his question, he was trying to figure out whether he could get the defense portfolio instead of the Interior Ministry while Yitzhak Rabin's body was still in Ichilov Hospital.
The rest is history. Shimon Peres remained prime minister and defense minister, and in the elections half a year later, Benjamin Netanyahu won. And then came Barak, who was defeated by Ariel Sharon by an overwhelming majority.
Ehud Barak came back a wealthy man, took a new wife, moved into a new apartment, and returned in the shadow of Kadima to the dying Labor Party. With the 19 Knesset seats of Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, the savior fulfilled his dream of leading the party, and in these last elections, which were moved up because of him, he brought it to a nadir of 13 seats, while Likud soared from 12 seats to 27. Of the two comeback kids, Netanyahu assessed the situation better than Barak did.
The man dubbed "Napo" (Napoleon) by his secretaries while chief of staff, not because of his height but because of his arrogance; the man whom they said knows how to take apart and reassemble watches; is not suited to sitting in the opposition. His acquaintances claim he doesn't understand what a party is. He is not suited to spending long nights discussing who will be party secretary in the Carmiel branch. From the time he was a major, and later commander of the Sayeret Matkal elite commando unit, he has stood alongside prime ministers and senior ministers who made crucial decisions in smoke-filled rooms. It's no wonder that he developed great ambitions.
But it turned out the man whom they said has a high IQ sometime understands nothing about politics. He has many good qualities, but he is not always sincere. He declared "the people have spoken; we are going to sit in the opposition," and then took steps to join the Likud government. He could have told his party, let's discuss and vote whether to go to the opposition or to form a national unity government with Kadima. He could even have declared: "I failed, and I'm resigning," but in every situation, he first of all takes care of himself. Not exactly leadership behavior. But even if he is dying to serve as defense minister in Netanyahu's government, at least he has to give back the Knesset seat to Labor.
Barak has a lot of good qualities, but he is not always sincere, not to mention that he does not habitually speak the truth.
In his first announcement, Barak said he is responsible for the failure, and "I'm remaining in the party and will do everything possible to rehabilitate it as an important political factor in Israel." But his behavior, when he is worrying about his own skin as Likud's defense minister, has cast a heavy shadow over his integrity.
It is no coincidence that his aides as prime minister have criticized him harshly. He is such a twisted person that he can't draw a straight line between two points, said one. From the day he became politically aware, he has not made an unequivocal decision: "He is hesitant, he consults with 100 people about whether to drive a Skoda or a Fiat." His most loyal aides as prime minister stopped believing him because he does not commit himself to anyone. Then-Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert made a gesture to Barak at the time, when he promised on a televised election broadcast that "Barak will not divide Jerusalem." As a "reward" for this gesture, Olmert could not get an appointment with prime minister Barak for half a year.
The person responsible for moving up the elections now is Barak, who made various and sundry demands as a condition for forming a government without elections, until Tzipi Livni lost her patience. He still doesn't understand what went wrong. At the least, he could have been expected to recommend to the president that Livni form the government. That way there would at least have been a chance of a national unity government, instead of the right-wing government on the horizon.
Barak has a reputation as a security genius, and he is probably hoping to be man of the hour in any situation based on that reputation. But even a defense minister has to be first and foremost a politician. Had he been one, he should have figured out how not to carry out a military operation that was so successful that it turned the entire world against us and made the terrorist organization Hamas the subject of worldwide sympathy and deserving of financial aid - while the missiles continue to fly.
Barak is undoubtedly a brilliant man, but it is highly likely that he is on his way out.
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