Analysis |

After Failing as a Politician, Barak's Decision to Quit Was Inevitable

Even if Barak will be part of the next government, he will wield even less influence than he does currently; this means that the next government’s policies will turn even more to the right.

Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
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Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn

Ehud Barak understood that he had no chance of crossing the electoral threshold in the January election so instead of conducting a campaign that would end in public humiliation and debts, he decided to cut his losses and forgo contending as the head of the Atzmaut party.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants him as defense minister in his next government, he will have to name him as a “professional appointment.” And if the two of them decide during the three months or so left in their current tenures to attack Iran – as Barak seemed to hint in Monday’s announcement when he declared “I promise you there will be lots of security challenges,” it would be a thunderous end to a stormy political career that was full of reverses and positioned him as “the man everyone loved to hate.”

Barak has been one of the most substantial influences on Israel’s strategic thinking over the past generation, and to a great extent he was its primary architect, akin to Moshe Dayan during the 1950s and ’60s. He led the Israel Defense Forces’ technological revolution and helped equip the army with guided missile systems and unmanned aerial vehicles that now play a major role in military missions.

He initiated and carried out the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, which served as the inspiration for the Gaza disengagement that followed. The peace proposals he made to then-Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in 2000 at Camp David, which later contributed to the formulation of the “Clinton parameters,” are still regarded as a reasonable outline for dividing the land between Israel and a Palestinian state, and served as the basis for the erection of the security barrier in the West Bank.

His “leverage and pressure” approach to confronting armed terror groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, which involves pressuring the enemy by using heavy air power from afar, was first employed by Israel during Operation Accountability against Lebanon in 1993 and most recently in Operation Pillar of Defense against Gaza. No one has yet come up with a different or more successful approach.

In contrast to Netanyahu, who is more conversant with history books, Barak appreciates power and looks at life from the vantage point of a stock market investor, who looks ahead to gauge the expected profit or loss. His long-winded analyses of the threat from Tehran never mention the Holocaust or the hateful diatribes of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, but instead present a dispassionate assessment of the influence of an Iranian nuclear weapon on the regional balance of power.

But for all that Barak excelled as an initiator, planner and analyst, he failed as a politician, and had a hard time recruiting support in the government and the Knesset. He won the prime ministerial post in 1999 by a wide margin, only to be kicked out of the job after 20 stormy months, the shortest tenure of any Israeli leader, even shorter than that of Israel’s second prime minister, Moshe Sharett. Since then, he has been unable to make his way back to the national leadership the way Yitzhak Rabin and Netanyahu both managed to do.

His greatest public sin was buying a luxury apartment in the Akirov Towers in north Tel Aviv, which made him look like a member of the arrogant and disconnected nouveau riche. It’s true that other politicians own ranches (Ariel Sharon) or villas (Netanyahu), but Barak’s palace was situated on a main street, in front of everyone, not tucked away in the Negev or on a little lane in Caesarea.

During this term Barak enjoyed the status of Netanyahu’s confidant and close associate, and served both as the premier’s envoy to talks with the American administration and as a counterweight to the extreme and tempestuous positions expressed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Netanyahu and Barak cooperated on preparing the IDF, Israeli public opinion, and the international community for a possible war against Iran.

But Barak was unable to convince the prime minister to exhibit any flexibility with regard to the Palestinians, or to apologize to Turkey following the diplomatic rift. He would explain away such failures by citing his political weakness. “I can’t bring down the government like Yvet [Avigdor] Lieberman,” he would often tell reporters.

Now Barak has internalized his political limitations and has drawn the appropriate conclusion, which is that it doesn’t pay for him to waste his time on an election campaign, and that he’s better off continuing his daily routine at Defense Ministry headquarters in the Kirya, where he has worked for most of his adult life.

Whether he will be part of the next government will depend on the election results and the political pressures that will be applied to Netanyahu afterward. But it’s clear, of course, that as a “professional” minister, Barak would have even less influence than he does in the current government. This means that the next government’s foreign and security policies will turn even more rightward than they already have, and become more nationalist and resistant to any concession or compromise.

Ehud Barak.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ehud Barak with Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, September 2009.
Ehud Barak, center, as a young IDF soldier
Has Ehud Barak, who slogged through peace talks in 1999, warned the prime minister that a celebratory launch to negotiations, and setting a target date of one year, is not enough?
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Ehud Barak with Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, September 2009.Credit: Dan Keinan
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Ehud Barak, center, as a young IDF soldierCredit: IDF Spokesman
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Has Ehud Barak, who slogged through peace talks in 1999, warned the prime minister that a celebratory launch to negotiations, and setting a target date of one year, is not enough?Credit: AP
Ehud Barak

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