Israel's Barak, architect of Iran policy, quitting politics

Mon Nov 26, 2012 10:16am EST
 

By Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, a leading strategist in confronting Iran over its nuclear program, said in a surprise announcement on Monday that he would quit political life after the January 22 national election.

Some commentators speculated Barak was trying to duck a trouncing for his tiny centrist party in the ballot, after which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the front-running, right-wing Likud, might return him to defence and military headquarters as a professional appointee.

But others said 70-year-old Barak, who has served as prime minister and armed forces chief, may have had enough of campaigning and wanted to focus on resolving the Iranian issue before leaving his post.

"I stand before you to share my decision to resign from political life and not to run in the coming election for the Knesset," Barak told a news conference, adding he would stay on as defence chief until a new administration is sworn in.

Speaking five days after an eight-day Gaza offensive ended in a ceasefire with the enclave's Hamas Islamist rulers, Barak said he wanted to spend more time with his family and that politics "has never been a passion of mine".

Should Barak's resignation prove permanent his successor would likely come from Likud ranks. He might even be replaced by the current foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, the Likud's more hawkish coalition partner.

Few doubt that this would affect the tenor of a ministry that oversees everything from armed conflict to administration of occupied Palestinian territory to liaising with regional power-broker Egypt.

Danny Yatom, an old army comrade of Barak's who went on to serve as head of the Mossad spy agency, described him as a "moderate anchor" for a Netanyahu government whose saber-rattling on Iran has often raised the hackles of the United States and other Western countries.   Continued...

 
Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak addresses during a news conference at the 48th Paris Air Show at the Le Bourget airport near Paris, June 15, 2009. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol