Ehud Barak: Netanyahu's Poor Judgment, Rocky Relations With Obama Damaged Israel's Security

In former defense minister's latest jab at Netanyahu, Barak says the prime minister is aware that the countdown to the end of his rule has begun.

Ehud Barak at the Darkenu conference in Rishon Letzion, August 17, 2016.
Tomer Appelbaum

Former Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at a conference on Wednesday that a series of events in recent months caused damage to Israel's security as a result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's mistaken judgment and his rocky relations with U.S. President Barack Obama. Barak noted in his speech that he could give no further details as to the incident because of its sensitivity.

Speaking at a conference of the Darkenu movement in Rishon Letzion, Barak said that "there's also a heavy price in another incident in which, again, [there was a] worrying mix of inability to judge deep security interests and the priorities they dictate alongside a lack of internalization of the potential of cooperation with the United States, as well as careless operational behavior."

"All these led to a most worrisome exposure of Israel to a central security challenge. Due to the sensitivity of the matter I won't be able to clarify further," he said.

Senior officials from the Prime Minister's Bureau told Haaretz that they don’t know which "security incident" Barak was referring to. "We examined the issue. There's no such thing. Period," his bureau said. 

Barak also mentioned in his speech that damage to Israel's security was also caused on the issue of the military aid agreement with the United States as a result of "his reckless gamble in conducting relations with the White House" regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran. Barak claimed that instead of receiving 4.5 billion dollars a year as was expected and practical right after the signing of the agreement in Vienna in July 2015, Israel will receive only 3.8 billion dollars a year and will commit to not demanding additional aid from Congress.

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, listens to Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 6, 2010.
Mark Wilson, Bloomberg

According to Barak, as a result of Netanyahu's conduct Israel was forced to gradually give up on the possibility to use the American aid money for procurement in the Israeli military industries, which according to him means a direct damage of 3 billion shekels a year. "It means that vital projects will be stopped or canceled and thousands of [people] dismissed in the military industries," Barak said. "Or, alternatively, cuts of another 3 billion shekels a year in budgets for education, society and infrastructure."

Barak added: "One decision, frivolous and reckless – and what a price. For 10 years. The writing was on the wall. The failure – known in advance. So what went through Netanyahu's mind? What and whom exactly did this decision serve?

"No one could have prevented us from clarifying our position that the agreement was bad, in our opinion, and its signing a mistake. But instead of an open discussion with President Obama behind closed doors, which is what any other prime minister would have done, we witnessed the crude entry into the depths of the bipartisan debate over there, an opportunity to speak well at Congress at the expense of going behind a sitting president's back, a profound shake-up of bipartisan support of Israel and of Jewish public opinion. And all this only to again meet with the foreseeable failure, and now also at its concrete price. What unforgivable recklessness."

The Likud responded to Barak's remarks by saying that "when it comes to military aid from the U.S., Barak should be the last one to talk. While Prime Minister Netanyahu is about to bring forward an unprecedented aid agreement with the U.S., of close to 40 billion dollars, we're still waiting for the billion dollars of U.S. military aid that Barak promised we'll receive during his hasty retreat from Lebanon, a withdrawal that led to Iran and Hezbollah taking over southern Lebanon and the launching of thousands of missiles from there at Israel's cities."

The former prime minister, who served as defense minister in Netanyahu's government from 2009 to 2013, said that the latter displayed lack of judgment also in the diplomatic arena when he chose to "deceive world leaders" regarding his intentions on the Palestinian issue.

"Netanyahu is regarded as a weak person, with a considerable talent for deception that is worked on inside and outwards, a man shrouded in anxiety and fears, who dissipates a lot of verbal smoke screens but misses time and again, in endless zigzagging and hesitancy, opportunities to strengthen Israel's security and its integration in the region," Barak said. "Fear is a bad adviser. The practice of hesitation and zigzagging and a mental state of pessimism, passiveness, panic and helplessness – aren’t a good recipe for the responsible and poised management of a country."

During his speech Barak also mentioned Netanyahu's opposition to the establishment of the new public broadcasting corporation and to the string of laws that his government has passed or that coalition members are trying to promote. "Such embarrassing nonsense as that which appeared in the transcript of the cabinet meeting over the corporation hasn't been heard in these parts for a long time," he said, referring to Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev's comments at that meeting.

"The prime minister sat in the room. Sat. Listened and kept quiet. Any other prime minister would have banged the table and stopped this foolish conversation at once, if only in shame. So why didn’t it happen? What is he scared of? Netanyahu is haunted by anxieties that even a thousand of briefing to reporters, lengthy and clearly hectic, won't be able to extinguish."    

Barak claimed that Netanyahu's conduct regarding Yoav Eliasi, "The Shadow," joining the Likud indicates that he is scared of the right-wing rapper and his supporters. "In a place where figures such as Oren Hazan and Yoav Eliasi, 'La Familia' and Elor Azaria are cultural heroes, and some of them even impose a crippling fear on the incumbent prime minister – in a place like this I say: Right, it's not Germany 70 or 80 years ago. There still isn’t a fascist regime here. And we won't allow for one either. But it's very reminiscent of southern Europe and South America 90 or 110 years ago," Barak said. And 'signs'? There are. Definitely.

"And I warn again: If it looks like 'signs of fascism,' walks like 'signs of fascism' and barks like 'signs of fascism' – then it's signs of fascism. What can we do, there are painful things that have to be said. Because they are the truth."

In conclusion, Barak said that Netanyahu has been driven in the past year mainly by personal considerations of staying in power. "He's too attentive – not to say, God forbid, driven by – exterior elements that are generously backing the continuation of his rule," Barak said, referring to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who also own the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily. "My position that the countdown to the end of his term has begun is well-known. To the best of my impression, he understands so too."