Barak Dimona 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Monday's terror attack justified his decision to remain in the coalition.
"If someone among us needed a greater understanding regarding the complexity of the situation we're in, unfortunately, he could have found it today in Dimona," Army Radio quoted Barak as saying.
Barak made the comments hours after a 20-year-old woman was killed and 38 people were wounded, one critically, in a suicide bombing in a Dimona commercial center.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's associates said that Barak's announcement that he intends to remain defense minister "until the right time comes" guaranteed the prime minister "nine months of political quiet."
Barak's announcement added to the political stability Olmert won when he agreed to Shas's demand last week that the Jerusalem issue be raised at the end of the diplomatic process that is set to culminate before November's US presidential election.
"There is no problem in the coalition anymore," an Olmert associate said. "If there is a diplomatic deal that includes Jerusalem in November, there will be problems, but until then there will be only minor setbacks amid nine months of quiet. This government will last longer than all the purported prophets predicted."
The coalition will face its first post-Winograd test on Monday, when the Knesset holds a special plenum session on the Winograd Report that will conclude with a vote to approve or condemn the government's defense of its conduct in the Second Lebanon War.
At least five MKs in the 67-member coalition intend to vote with the opposition: Avigdor Yitzhaki and Marina Solodkin of Kadima, and Ophir Paz-Pines, Danny Yatom and Shelly Yacimovich of Labor. The coalition's failure to pass such a vote could be discouraging to the government, but the vote is purely symbolic.
Olmert reacted to Barak's announcement at Sunday's cabinet meeting, saying he thought it was the "right decision." The prime minister said a stable government was a "national objective," and that there were numerous issues on the agenda that needed to be dealt with immediately.
"We have much more work to do, and I am happy we will be able to do it together," said Olmert, who had lunch with Barak privately after the cabinet meeting.
Barak's associates said he would demand more influence in the government's decision-making, since he could bring down the government at any time. But they hinted that Barak had no intention of toppling Olmert as long as the diplomatic process continued.
"If he had quit or called for Olmert to quit, people would have applauded, but it would have been irresponsible," a Barak associate said. "He doesn't have a plan in the drawer for when the next election should be held. But he does want to give the diplomatic process a chance."
Barak faced strong criticism from Paz-Pines, who called upon him to reconsider his decision. Paz-Pines told a forum of the United Kibbutz Movement in Tel Aviv that Barak had missed a historic opportunity.
"If we remain in the government as Kadima's spare change, it is real political suicide," Paz-Pines said. "Barak had to show leadership, responsibility and take a risk. Whoever is afraid of Netanyahu and serving in the opposition, will never get to power. To get to power, a party has to believe in itself."
Paz-Pines said he had expected Barak to restore the public's faith in politicians, but Barak had disappointed him when he broke the promise he'd made him in a June press conference to end Labor's partnership with Olmert upon the Winograd Report's publication.
Yitzhaki said he planned to quit the Knesset due to Barak's announcement, but had not yet decided when he would submit his resignation because he still had bills that were set to be voted on in the coming days. Labor MK Danny Yatom was also considering quitting politics in the wake of Barak's decision.
Barak's ally, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, defended him at the kibbutz movement event. He said the need to have Barak as defense minister outweighed any political considerations.
"After such a failed war, someone has to prepare the country for all the threats it is facing," Ben-Eliezer said. "After Winograd, we owe it to our children and grandchildren to keep them safe."
Sheera Claire Frenkel and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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