Stephen Rubin

It should come as no surprise that Israeli Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak threw down a wild card and announced the end of his career in politics.

Although the decision countered a spike in his popularity after Israel’s recent operation against terror infrastructure in Gaza, it is only fitting that Barak, Israel’s most decorated soldier, would succeed at fooling election pundits, the media and the broader public sphere.  After all, this is the man who, throughout his time as a public servant, was viewed as both the savior and a complete failure to the Israeli peace camp, while being a frequent punching bag for both the dovish left and the more hardline right-wing parties.

Barak’s element of political surprise became routine.  Instead of choosing to sit in the opposition bloc against Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right leaning coalition, Barak made the decision to bring the Labor Party into the government – a ploy seen by critics as a way to guarantee himself the position of Defense Minister.

In further alienating many in the Labor movement, Barak refused to leave the coalition at the beginning of 2011 and instead formed the Independence party – a faction he claimed would reclaim the foundational ideals of the center-left and the socialist, defense-oriented mandate of David Ben Gurion’s Map’ai party, the predecessor of today’s Labor Party.

And just as everyone counted him ‘down and out’, delusional about his chances of passing the electoral threshold, Israel’s recent military campaign in the Gaza Strip gave Barak and Independence a major boost while almost assuring him a seat in the next government, a primary role in the cabinet, and most importantly, a guiding hand in a possible confrontation with Iran.

Despite Barak’s official resignation from daily political life (note:  Barak was careful to highlight the word ‘political’ in his speech), it is important that he remain involved in Israel’s security discourse over the coming years…. either in the capacity of a specially appointed envoy between the Israeli and United States defense establishments, including the Oval Office, or as a hand-picked Defense Minister in the next cabinet, since Israeli law allows for non-elected officials to serve in certain cabinet positions.

Barak is respected in the American administration and is viewed as a pragmatic – albeit hawkish – voice when it comes to Israel’s position vis-à-vis Iran.  Unlike Netanyahu, who views himself as the savior of the Jewish people in the face of an apocalyptical Iran, Barak sees himself as the strategic tactician responsible for the preservation of Israel’s military and defensive superiority in the region, something a nuclear Iran will surely compromise.

His wise maneuvering and levelheaded approach in working with the Obama administration has blanketed his tough talk and prophetic doom of a nuclear Iran.  There is no doubt that Barak has provided a constant ‘in’ to the Oval Office at a time when President Obama has wanted to keep all things Bibi ‘out’.

The quips about Barak always return to the same point – his arrogance.  Unfortunately in politics, character flaws and quirky personality traits can often change the direction of a nation.  Just ask John Kerry and Al Gore.

So, is this really the end for Ehud Barak?  Or is it just the beginning of a post-political life that will still involve significant influence on Israel’s security and foreign policy over the coming years?  To paraphrase Barak when he reassumed the chairmanship of the Labor Party, ‘I plan to be running for office just as Shimon Peres was during his mid 80s.’

Bear in mind, Peres at 89-years old is Israel’s current president.

Whatever Barak’s next move is, no one should be shocked about the curve ball he will throw – if indeed he stays in the ‘game’ at all.

President Ehud Barak, anyone?


The original version of this piece appeared in The Boston Herald