In a surprise announcement Monday, Nov. 26, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he was quitting political life after 47 years and would not stand in the January 22, 2013 general election. He would however stay on in defense until the incumbent government ends its term in three months. debkafile: This means that a sudden Middle East war eruption in the next three months forcing the postponement of voting would find him still holding down defense in the Netanyahu government.
But his words decisively debunked wide media speculation that he was planning to merge his small Independence Party with one of the left-of center opposition groups preparing to run against Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud.
Our military and Washington sources believe Barak’s action ties in closely with President Barack Obama’s decision to embark on direct US-Iranian nuclear talks in the next few days and the steps Israel and the US pursued for bringing Iran to the table in a suitably amenable frame of mind.
One of those steps was the just ended Israeli Gaza operation which aimed at signaling Iran before those talks opened that even combined Iranian-Hizballah missile might would not determine the outcome of a military confrontation. Above all, Tehran was given to understand that dragging out nuclear diplomacy inconclusively as heretofore would now work to its detriment: its allies would start dropping off and be weakened like the Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip and most likely Jihad Islami in its wake.
The precursor to Israel’s eight-day Gaza operation which ended in a ceasefire on Nov. 21 was the Oct. 24 raid on the Yarmouk industrial complex near Khartoum and the destruction of its Iranian long-range missile manufacturing plant and a shipment of rockets destined for the Gaza Strip
The two operations were a foretaste for Tehran that if the US and Israel joined forces for a military strike, they would not only cripple its nuclear program but also the military and intelligence networks Iran has planted under cover across the Middle East – from Lebanon up to East Africa.
As seen from Washington and Jerusalem, Iran’s rulers are now confronted with a hard choice between serious negotiations that end in its giving up the option for building a nuclear bomb or facing all-out military confrontation across the region with the Americans and its Western allies, including Israel.
Ehud Barak’s decision to retire from politics frees him from the taxing burdens of running election in January at the head of a small party in order to spend all his time leading the US-Israeli contest against Iran.
In answer to a reporter's question about the Iranian issue, the defense minister said: “This is the most important and central issue on the agenda and it will occupy me until I retire in three months.”
He is taking a chance: If the combined strategy for bringing Iran to heel fails to reach its target or falls down, he will have to make good on his pledge to retire from politics. But if it goes forward according to plan, he will be in a position for a triumphant comeback.
After a brief lackluster stint as Labor prime minister in 2000-2001, Ehud Barak served as defense minister in three governments spanning seven and-a-half years. He shepherded the Israeli armed forces’ recovery from the 2006 Lebanon War, helped cement and expand security ties with the United States and upgraded Israel’s munitions, notably promoting the development of the Iron Dome which distinguished itself in the recent operation which was triggered by Hamas’s missile blitz against the Israeli population. He praised the Chief of Staff Benny Gantz for inculcating in the soldiers a spirit of quiet confidence without arrogance.
Barak offered the explanation frequently heard from retiring politicians of wanting to spend time with his family and make way for fresh talent – which often comes before a comeback.