Israeli Defense Minister Won’t Stand in January Election

Ehud Barak’s decision is unlikely to prevent the ruling coalition from winning reelection.

American defense secretary Leon Panetta and his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, attend a military ceremony in Tel Aviv, October 3, 2011
American defense secretary Leon Panetta and his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, attend a military ceremony in Tel Aviv, October 3, 2011 (USAF/Jacob N. Bailey)

Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, has announced he is not running as an independent in January’s elections. But he has left the door open to continuing to serve in his present post.

“As long as my advice is requested and considered, I will be available to senior officials in every issue,” he told reporters in Tel Aviv on Monday.

Barak has served as defense minister for seven years, currently under the conservative prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is likely to stay in power after the election.

Surprise

Barak’s decision not to run surprised observers. His forceful performance in recent hostilities with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and public dissatisfaction with the Gaza ceasefire Netanyahu brokered had given his Atzmaut party a boost in the polls.

Barak launched Atzmaut in early 2011, when he broke with Labor.

Even if Atzmaut doesn’t cross the election threshold, Netanyahu’s ruling coalition of conservative, nationalist and Jewish Orthodox parties will probably still have a majority in the new Knesset.

Hawks

Although some saw Barak as a moderating influence on the hawkish Netanyahu, the two were united in their a determination to strengthen sanctions against Iran in order to halt is nuclear program.

Dennis Ross, a veteran American Middle East diplomat, called Barak “perhaps the leading advocate for military action against Iran” in an interview with the Reuters news agency.

It was revealed earlier this month that Barak and Netanyahu had decided to strike Iran in 2010 but faced opposition from other cabinet members, the military and intelligence chiefs.

Successor

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a former military chief of staff, is the frontrunner to replace Barak.

Other candidates include Avi Dichter, a former security chief who is now the Likud minister for homefront defense, and Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister whose nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party joined Likud in October.

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