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Ehud Barak to step down as Israeli Defense Minister, retire from politics

Published time: November 26, 2012 09:16
Edited time: November 26, 2012 15:31
Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak waves as he leaves after a news conference in Tel Aviv November 26, 2012 (Reuters / Nir Elias)

Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak waves as he leaves after a news conference in Tel Aviv November 26, 2012 (Reuters / Nir Elias)

Hawkish Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has announced that he will retire from politics after the next election. The news comes as surveys suggested his party was headed for defeat in the upcoming parliamentary polls.

Barak, a former prime minister of Israel, enjoyed a surge in popularity following Operation Pillar of Defense earlier this month. But opinion polls showed that his Independence Party is unlikely to win more than three seats in Israel’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Barak’s faction, which currently holds five seats in the Knesset, splintered from the Labour Party in 2011.

In a surprise press conference on Monday, Barak, 70, said he would not run in the January 22 election. He thanked his supporters and the Israeli government, and pledged to serve the country as an advisor and private citizen next year.

"There are many ways to contribute to the state, politics isn't the only one," Barak said.

He added that he aims to spend more time with family and dedicate time to writing after an exhausting political career.

Barak said that Israel’s major military offensive against Gaza over the last few weeks was difficult, but ultimately a success. He also stressed that Iran, and its nuclear program, will continue to be Israel’s most important security issue

Current Labour head Shelly Yacimovich expressed regret at Barak's retirement. "[The] world's most decorated soldier, and one of the most highly regarded security officials worldwide, has done more to the IDF and to the state's security than the public will ever know," Haaretz newspaper quoted her as saying.

Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein of the Likud Party also responded to the resignation, saying that "today is Likud's independence day. Barak will go down in the history of Israel's government as the worst defense minister the Jewish settlements have ever had."

The resignation announcement came after rumors surfaced that Barak would join Tsipi Livni’s Kadima party, or form a new party with her.

Before pursuing a political career in 1995, Barak served in the IDF for 35 years, eventually rising to the highest ranks and becoming the Chief of General Staff.

He then served as Interior Minister under Yitzhak Rabin, and later as Foreign Minister under Shimon Peres. He became leader of the Labour party in 1996.

Barak was elected Prime Minister of Israel from 1999 to 2001, before losing the next election to Likud party leader Ariel Sharon. He later resigned from the party leadership.

Barak returned to politics in 2005, becoming the leader of the Labour Party and Defense Minister in Ehud Olmert’s government. He led Operation Cast Lead in 2008, the IDF’s biggest assault on Gaza militants in years.

He retained his position as head of the Israeli military following the 2009 election, after which Benjamin Netanyahu became Prime Minister.