Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak announced on Monday that he would not run as an independent in January’s parliamentary election but 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 said during a press conference in Tel Aviv.
Barak will stay on as defense minister until the next government is formed after more than seven nonconsecutive years in the position under three governments, including one led by Barak as prime minister. In the last three years, he has served under the conservative Benjamin Netanyahu who is likely to return as premier after the election.
The announcement surprised many as Barak’s forceful performance during recent hostilities with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in Gaza and public dissatisfaction with the ceasefire that Prime Minister Netanyahu brokered had given his Atzmaut faction a boost in the polls. Barak launched the party in early 2011 when he broke off from Labor. Even if Atzmaut doesn’t cross the election threshold, Netanyahu’s ruling coalition of conservative, nationalist and Jewish orthodox parties will likely still win a majority in the new Knesset.
Although some, mostly foreign, observers saw Barak as a moderating influence on the hawkish Netanyahu, the couple was united in a determination to strengthen international sanctions against Iran to halt is nuclear program which many Israeli and Western leaders fear will ultimately enable the Islamic republic to produce an atomic bomb. 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. Indeed, 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 the nation’s intelligence chief.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon of Likud, a former Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, appears to be a 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.