I spent most of yesterday planning an analysis of the Likud Primaries, which were supposed to be the main political event of the day in Israel. Unluckily, a malfunction of the voting machines caused delays in the voting. By 10PM, only 44 percent of the 123,000 eligible voters had cast their ballot. The party considered adding another day to the process and rendered my plan useless. Then, a minor bombshell landed on my computer screen, when I found that the French Consulate in Israel had invited Salah Hamori to a formal event. Mr. Hamori is a Palestinian with French citizenship. In 2009, he was convicted by an Israeli military court of planning the assassination of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was released in December 2011 after France insisted in his being included in the Shalit swap deal. This was a juicy topic due to the complex relations between Israel and France. Yet, my plans were sabotaged again. At 9AM on November 26, 2012, Ehud Barak ("barak" means "lightning" in Hebrew) stole the political thunder when he announced he would not run for the upcoming elections in January. "My decision to retire stems from my desire to devote that time to my family, and also because I have never felt that politics was the height of my ambition," Israel's Minister of Defense announced. The most striking reaction came from Minister of Information and Diaspora Yoel Edelstein, a Likud member, who chanted to the media a Jewish prayer: "Blessed be God for ridding us of his punishment" ("baruch sheptaranu me'onsho shel ze").
Defense Minister Ehud Barak (center), Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (r), and IDF Southern Command Commander Tal Rousso, during Operation Pillar of Cloud, Be'er Sheva, Nov. 15, 2012
Barak Announcing Retirement He lives as a bodyguards' prisoner
Chronicles of a Predicted Political Suicide
As almost everything else in Israeli political life, the event looks like a contradiction. After all, following Operation Pillar of Cloud, Barak obtained what he can present as a military victory ahead of the elections. He takes credit for Iron Dome, which is wrongly being called "hero of the hour" by the Hebrew media. Less than two months before the elections, this could provide an easy political path to his Labor-spinoff party, Atzmaut ("independence"). Yet, Minister Edelstein continued his political obituary: "This is the Independence Day of the Likud and the State of Israel, when we got free of the Independence Party." Unluckily for Barak, his retirement became an instantaneous linguistic hit; an easy target for word games.
Barak was in Netanyahu's list of political assassinations. Right now, Netanyahu's party shares the main government ministries with two other parties. Barak's party got the Ministry of Defense while Lieberman's party got the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This put undesired constraints on Netanyahu's rule. He decided to strengthen the Likud, and released his wild dogs. Minister of Finance and Likud member Yuval Steinitz said in an interview given earlier this year to "Haaretz," "I have declared war on Ehud Barak on the issue of transparency and control and it will happen, if not now, then later through Knesset legislation." Steinitz war seemed oddly defined: "transparency and control" seem hardly a topic suitable for a young minister attacking one of Israel's leading politicians. It meant that he was being silently backed—in fact being used—by Netanyahu. If Steinitz won, Barak would end out of the Knesset and the government. If Barak won, young Steinitz would still be portrayed as a courageous leader. In both cases Netanyahu was set to win, since Barak was to emerge weakened, after spending energy and time on secondary topics (see Israel Doubles West Bank Settlements Budget). While Barak was fighting Steinitz, Netanyahu's decision to call early elections and his announcement that his party, Likud, and the extremist Avidor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) party will run as a single list in the upcoming elections (see Israel's Big Bang), put an end to Barak's chances. For the first time in a generation, secular Jews will have the opportunity to vote for one large party. It meant that a small party like Independence, which never had faced elections had no chance of getting enough votes for its leader to keep his position as Minister of Defense. Instead of facing his Night of the Long Knives, Ehud Barak committed public suicide, samurai style.
Ehud Barak in white | Operation Entebbe
Barak achieved prominence as commander of Sayeret Matkal, the IDF elite commando unit. He was its commander during Operation Entebbe. After that success, his way to the top was clear. He was the IDF's chief of staff between 1991 and 1995, when he attempted to create what he called a "small and smart" army. Later, he served as Interior Minister in the Yitzhak Rabin government, and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the short-lived Shimon Peres government that followed Rabin's state-staged assassination. In 1999, he was voted Prime Minister in Israel's first, and only, direct election of prime minister, defeating Netanyahu in a landslide elections. His term included the failure of the Camp David talks with Yasser Arafat, the onset of the Second Intifada, and Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon. It ended prematurely in 2001, with the election of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Barak retired from political life, but returned in 2005, serving as Defense Minister under prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet, Israeli politics are fluid. Barak may yet return from his political Siberia, as he did in 2005.
Hebrew Media: "Retirement Bombshell"
Expectedly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coldly commented on Barak's retirement. He said that he respects Barak's decision and thanked Barak for their "mutual cooperation," adding that he appreciates his long-term contribution to the security of Israel. The Hebrew undertone of his words matches Minister Edelstein's assessment: "Blessed be God for ridding us of his punishment."
The massacre of Christians by Jews in Mamilla was analyzed by Israel Shamir at Mamilla Pool