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Israeli politics is a minefield in which one must tread carefully so as to avoid an explosion, a veteran observer said yesterday.

Ehud Barak may once have known how to handle real explosive charges, but the same caution is not evident in his political life. And the media's recent pounding of him is targeting his weakest points - "conduct" and "character."

He could have avoided this attack had he proceeded differently. Until this incident things were going well. The party was calm, its convention had exempted him from another showdown on election eve and his only critic was Amir Peretz, who had lost to him, so nobody took the criticism seriously.

Yesterday, after the dust from dismissing his strategic adviser Eldad Yaniv seemed to be settling, Eitan Cabel, Labor's secretary-general and Barak's loyal supporter, joined the attack. He was quoted in Ynet as saying "Barak is acting as if he was afraid. I'm ashamed of him."

Cabel had not criticized Barak for weeks until he discovered that, behind his back, his party leader was plotting to reduce his authority by changing the party constitution. As soon as he felt that his powers were at risk, he called Barak a coward and other names.

When senior party figures are engaged in mutual mud-slinging it is not a good sign. What did Barak need this for? What can he gain by changing the constitution? And who cares? Nowadays politicians are tested in the public arena and their fate is determined by public opinion.

In this arena Barak's position is not brilliant.

Opening a front inside the party on the eve of the release of the Winograd Report is a totally unnecessary move.

It puts him at odds with associates and portrays him again as one who doesn't consult with others.

In cost-benefit terms, even if he ultimately gets his way, it simply doesn't pay.

Barak must deal with loftier matters of state, such as the peace process and preparing his moves post-Winograd, which will help him build a leader's image, not become mired in petty party mud-slinging.

At a time when Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Ehud Olmert is preparing for President George W. Bush's historic visit to Israel, Barak will be immersed in putting out the fire in Labor that he himself lit.