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If we believe Ehud Barak, he joined the government yesterday only for an interim period of three to four months to bolster the structure before it is brought down - so that it will not crush its inhabitants before it is destroyed in a controlled blast.

Barak, who added a feeble, belated voice to the demand that Ehud Olmert resign from the leadership of the government, is starting in the post of defense minister from a point where Ezer Weizman under Menachem Begin, and Yitzhak Mordechai under Benjamin Netanyahu ended - in a declared challenge to the prime minister.

Similar couples - and even more destructive ones - were Pinhas Lavon and Moshe Sharet, and Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. But Barak will be the first defense minister who, from the start, challenges the authority of a prime minister from a different party.

Separating in such way two hot seasons - the one political and the other security related - is on the one hand possible with superior multitasking capabilities, like those of Barak, who as a general was known for his ability to quickly sift through the mail during General Staff deliberations. On the other hand, it does not bode well for the process of stabilization and decision making in the government: a multiparty coalition, brimming with personal ambitions, and whose members will never weigh the impact of their decisions over their personal survival and advancement.

Barak will come to clashes with the prime minister without the burden of the external load of the Winograd report (the Orr Committee, which was so critical of his conduct in October 2000, has been forgotten). On Olmert's forehead the letter "F" is etched, for "failed." Barak is a one-man cabinet and General Staff - the man in the IDF who headed the Planning Directorate and Military Intelligence, was chief of staff, foreign minister, defense minister and prime minister. It is the way of the world that each function is meant to add a dose of training for the next posting, but it turns out that an inverted ladder is much more useful - Barak is expected to be a better defense minister than he had been because of his experience as prime minister.

It is too bad that a chief of staff is not appointed after he has served as defense minister and has internalized the considerations at the appointed political levels; or a GOC after having served as chief of staff (except in rare cases - Moshe Dayan, who sort of served as GOC Southern Command in 1967, and Haim Bar-Lev, in the Northern and Southern Commands in the Yom Kippur War). Netanyahu is also proof of the rule: Only after he had served as prime minister while lacking any ministerial experience did he acquire - albeit at a terribly high cost and at the expense of the public - skills that served him well as finance minister.

As a politician emerging from the defense establishment, Barak is obviously more senior than the other two figures who came to the government from defense: Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter. Chief of staff Barak gave brigadier general Mofaz his promotion to major general, to the chagrin of the GOC Central Command, Nehemia Tamari, Mofaz's superior. Prime Minister Barak selected Dichter to head the Shin Bet.

The seniority character of relationships is eternal, even if the wheel has turned in politics. Barak's voice in the votes, on the face of it a single, egalitarian vote, will be more important and authoritative. Rabin, having served as the defense minister who canceled the Lavi project in the government of Yitzhak Shamir, proudly said that the prime minister (who opposed the cancellation) does not have any extra weight in the voting. In practice, since there is no government without him, the voice of the prime minister is superior, but even that cannot detract a defense minister with Barak's stature.

In the Barak-Olmert version of the classic Mutiny on the Bounty, the minute the first officer climbs on board he announces that he plans to overthrow the captain, or he will resign at the completion of their voyage in stormy seas, full of shoals. With two hands of this sort at the wheel, it is best for the passengers to prepare the lifeboats.