Analysis

Of All Ex-generals Vying to Replace Netanyahu, Only One Has the Energy, Aggression, and Venom

Barak is the only person in the country who can tell Netanyahu: 'As your former commander: Bibi, you can no longer remain at the helm of the government'

Barak announces his return to politics, Tel Aviv, June 26, 2019.
Meged Gozani

The sluggish, anemic behavior of Kahol Lavan’s leaders has succeeded in turning a vigorous, sharp-tongued old man who passed retirement age a decade ago into a hot political commodity. Ehud Barak is bringing the additive – some would say the drug – that this miserable election campaign so desperately needs: a combination of energy, aggression and venom.

So while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself sliding – as evidenced by his desperate efforts to save himself from having to face the voters on September 17 – the forces working against him are getting stronger and are even rejuvenating.

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Netanyahu has never experienced a political campaign in which on the one hand, so many generals are firing at him – four former chiefs of the general staff and numerous ex-generals – while on the other hand he is trying to find an escape through dubious legislative tricks and stinking maneuvers more suited to a leader like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While we cannot infer anything about the end of the play from its first act – there are still 80 days ahead of us – we can certainly expect some interesting scenes.

The timing Barak chose to announce his return to the political arena at the head of a new party is ideal from his perspective:

* The attempt to reverse the Knesset dissolution isn’t gaining steam and its fate is apparently sealed; only extreme circumstances, like a war or a natural disaster, are liable to resuscitate it. Barak, in his aggressive style, has buried it even deeper.

* His press conference, which he convened two hours after Benny Gantz deigned to finally come out of the bushes and address the attempt by the prime minister and Knesset speaker to assassinate Israeli democracy highlighted the differences between them. There’s a demand for Barak’s aggressive, determined message among people who aren’t finding themselves in Kahol Lavan, even if they don’t particularly like the person delivering it.

* On Thursday some 1,000 members of the Meretz convention are choosing the party’s leader, and next Tuesday there will be a primary election for the Labor Party leadership. When Barak says that he isn’t looking to run alone but is seeking connections and mergers in the center-left camp, he is conveying a message to the voters of both parties that could influence their decisions. One assumes that Barak would prefer it if Meretz elects Nitzan Horowitz and Labor chose Itzik Shmuli.

Barak is the only person in the country who can say the following to Netanyahu: “As your former commander, I’m telling you: Bibi, you can no longer remain at the helm of the government. Your time as a political leader is over.” When Netanyahu hears these words, he turns gray.

His return to politics at age 77, accompanied by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yair Golan – who, even when still in uniform, didn’t hesitate to call out the increasing brutalization, racism and extremism in Israeli society – will likely impact the entire center-left bloc. Kahol Lavan will be pushed more toward the center-right and try to do what it barely managed to do last time – attract moderate right-wing voters.

Barak, who is perceived as a leftist, won’t be able to do this. On August 1, the deadline for submitting slates for the September election, he hopes to find himself at the head of a left-wing conglomerate that includes Labor and Meretz. Perhaps Tzipi Livni will join, along with other figures who are waiting to see how things play out over the next 33 days.

The full column will appear in Friday’s Haaretz.