Barak announces retirement
JERUSALEM — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak abruptly announced on Monday that he was leaving politics and would not run in parliamentary elections in January, quashing speculation that he might unite with other centrist candidates to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Barak, who declared that he would step down when a new government is formed after the election, said he felt he had “exhausted my involvement in politics.”
Barak faced poor election prospects for his tiny Independence faction despite a modest bump in the polls upon Israel's recent military offensive in Gaza against the Islamist group Hamas.
By announcing his departure after that campaign, which boosted his approval ratings as defense minister, Barak appeared positioned for a potential return to the job as an outside cabinet appointment after the Jan. 22 election. He was noncommittal Monday when asked if he might return to the cabinet if invited back to serve as defense minister.
Barak's announcement came as a surprise after recent reports that he was negotiating an alliance with Tzipi Livni, the former head of the opposition Kadima party, to lead a centrist bloc that could take on Netanyahu. Livni is expected to announce her plans this week.
Barak told a news conference that he had decided “to leave political life and not run in the elections for the coming Knesset,” Israel's parliament. A former prime minister and army chief of staff, Barak, 70, said he wanted to devote more time to his family.
Netanyahu, who is favored to win another term as prime minister, issued a statement saying that he respected Barak's decision and that he “very much appreciates his contribution, over many years, to the security of the state.”
After working in tandem with Netanyahu to raise the alarm about Iran's nuclear program, Barak appeared to be trying to set himself apart from the prime minister, highlighting his own role in strengthening security ties with Washington.
When Netanyahu publicly criticized the Obama administration in September for not drawing a “red line” regarding Iran's nuclear efforts, Barak criticized the move, saying such disagreements should be resolved “behind closed doors.” He later floated the idea of unilaterally withdrawing from much of the West Bank while leaving large settlements under Israeli control, an idea that has been rejected by Netanyahu.