Barak Takes Over Defense, and Peretz Says Good-bye

Ehud Barak, who was elected last week to replace Amir Peretz as Labor Party chairman, will be replacing Peretz as defense minister this morning, in a ceremony at the Kirya military complex in Tel Aviv.

The ceremony takes place a day after the Knesset approved Barak's appointment in a 46-22 vote.

"I think that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the defense establishment are completing this year in better shape, stronger, and more unified than before, and I would like the citizens of Israel to know that," Peretz said in a parting speech yesterday.

Peretz also mentioned the public criticism aimed at him after the Second Lebanon War, saying that he has been "paying a dear price for the failures of the past." Peretz said the Second Lebanon War brought the fighting to the home front, generating a need to develop a security approach that integrates the needs of the civilian population.

"Without a doubt, this may be the busiest year from a security perspective, compared to all other years - I don't know if [that holds true for] the entire history of the State of Israel, but certainly for most of it," Peretz told the General Staff in one of several leave-taking meetings he conducted with Defense Ministry officials yesterday.

Peretz praised the General Staff and top ministry officials, saying: "All those sitting here know how to give up their personal egos for the sake of the strengthening the system as a whole. That's not characteristic of other systems."

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh will be leaving the ministry along with Peretz. Sneh met with Barak on Sunday night to express his interest in keeping his post, but Barak refused to commit to appointing him.

Sources close to Barak said the incoming defense minister prefers not to discuss any Defense Ministry appointments, at least until Kadima-Labor coalition negotiations, slated to take place next week, are complete.