Israel’s defence minister to quit politics

FP

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak announced Monday that he would soon "leave political life", after a half-century career in the military and government that included two years as prime minister.

Coming days after the end of a weeklong air blitz on the Gaza Strip and eight weeks before Israelis head to the polls, Barak's move is the latest to show the disarray in Israel's centre-left bloc. Though he formed a close partnership with the right-leaning prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly on the Iranian nuclear threat, Barak was a longtime leader of the liberal Labor Party, and now heads the tiny Independence faction.

Polls have suggested for months that Independence might not win enough votes for even a single seat in Parliament, so some observers saw Barak's decision as a way to avoid such an embarrassment, instead walking away amid praise for a Gaza operation that killed high-ranking Hamas militants and significantly reduced their arsenal of long-range rockets. He did not address the question of whether he would accept what is known as a "personal appointment" to serve a new government as defence minister despite sitting out the elections.

"I came to this decision not without misgivings but in the end a whole heart," Barak, 70, said at a news conference in Tel Aviv. "I would be concealing the whole truth if I did not say that the warmth that I feel from the public — favourable coverage from some of you, in recent days — wasn't nice. As someone who has not been indulged in that way usually, I know how to appreciate this and rejoice in it."

Barak, who has been well regarded as defence minister but is not a personally popular figure, was never considered a major factor in the shifting alliances for the coming elections. His announcement disrupted the swirling speculation over the plans of Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister and head of the centrist Kadima Party, who is expected to announce that she is re-entering politics on a new ticket.

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