ANALYSIS / With Gaza Raid, Barak Is Back in the Political Ring

If Hamas is beaten and Israel receives some peace, Labor and Barak may gain force at the expense of Kadima.

Two months after Ehud Olmert was elected as Israel's prime minister, the Second Lebanon War broke out. Two months before Olmert departs, the military campaign in the south breaks out.

But Olmert isn't the story here; he's on his way to the Prime Minister's Bureau pensioners' ward. Ehud Barak is the story here. The man who, until yesterday, had to remind the Israeli voter of his existence with self-ridicule on billboards and satirical shows is returning to the political ring with force. In the coming days, weeks maybe, Barak will stand in he center of the public's attention. For better or worse, he's in his element.

The beginning of the raid in Gaza bears the wily and deceptive fingerprint of Barak, the Israel Defense Forces most highly decorated combat soldier. This does not make him the most suitable candidate for the premiership, but it may deliver him and his party from the humiliating defeat the polls are predicting.

Who knows, maybe even Barak's performance in Eretz Nehederet ("A Wonderful Country") was part of the disinformation effort. Hamas might have thought that if the Israeli minister of defense has enough spare time for making a fool out of himself, then an attack can't be too close.

In case of failure, Barak will not be able to hide behind the prime minister, who is nearing the end of his political road, nor will he be able to point an accusing finger at a pilot chief-of-staff or an untrained army. The failure will be all his.

In case of success, no one will be able to take it away from him. If, by the end of the operation, the general sentiment will be that Israel has once again failed to meet its goals, if rockets continue to land and Gilad Shalit remain captive, the public will turn their anger at Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and power will drop like a ripe fruit into Benjamin Netanyahu's lap.

But if Hamas is beaten and Israel receives some peace under favorable terms, Labor and Barak may gain force, primarily at the expense of Kadima and Livni.

The political deck of cards has been reshuffled. The "negative" campaigns have been put on ice. All that has attracted our attention thus far - the lists, the crossovers, the new faces - has been rendered irrelevant.

History teaches us that military campaigns which occur during election campaigns - such as Grapes of Wrath in 1996 or the intifada in 2001 - benefit the right wing more than any other camp. In any case, it's too early for guesses as to how this will all pan out.

One thing is clear to Israel's leaders. What matters is the bottom line. The end result will determine whether they will receive a citation or a humiliation.