In what is already being characterized as a bombshell, surprise, and a calculation across the web, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has announced his intention to retire from political life following the next round of Israeli elections in January. Barak will remain in his post as Defense Minister until the next government is formed.
Some early analysts have suggested that Barak had hit his highest note following Operation Pillar of Defense and is choosing his moment well. While he was, at times, a popular defense minister, he never seemed able to capitalize on the reverence inherent in being one of the mostly highly-decorated Israeli soldiers ever. Here’s how the former prime minister was described by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in Tablet in 2011, shortly after he left the Labor Party that he was heading up at the time:
Barak is now enjoying unparalleled status as a public punching bag; indeed, it is doubtful that any other Israeli politician has achieved lower popularity in recent years—quite a feat, given the competition from figures like the brutish Lieberman, the corrupt and incompetent Ehud Olmert, and the blinkered leadership of Shas. The contempt in which Barak is held is even more astonishing when one considers his pedigree: He is one of the three most decorated officers in the history of the IDF and holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and math and a master’s degree in engineering-economic systems from Stanford University. He is even, some claim, a very capable amateur pianist. But all of his credentials and talents have never translated to more than a rudimentary ability to connect with people. Barak, an oft-told joke goes, will one day commit suicide by leaping from his IQ to his EQ.
Others have noted that Barak quit ahead of what might have been an unsuccessful and humiliating bid in the upcoming elections as the head of the Atzmaut Party. There had also been rumors that Barak would form a new party with Tzipi Livni, who will announce her plans to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his job, unless extremely dramatic developments continue to unfold in Israel and prevent her from ever doing so.
Barak may be leaving the door open to be reappointed as Defense Minister, a role that he has cumulatively held for almost eight years across three different Israeli governments, but given the climate with the new Bieberman Super Party, one expects that Netanyahu will appoint someone who leans a little bit more to the right.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.