Barak's announcement leaves some Labor colleagues surprised and angry

Defense minister considered calling for a national emergency government led by Likud but ultimately decided this would detract from his goals.

Barak Im gonna kill you! (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Barak Im gonna kill you!
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The ministers closest to Labor chairman Ehud Barak were woken up at midnight on Tuesday night by family members and aides informing them of Channel 1 political correspondent Ayala Hasson's report about Barak's meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Barak had convened his closest advisers to decide how to go about calling for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's departure in the wake of American financier Morris Talansky's testimony. He left the ministers in the dark and then had to stay on the phone late into the night pacifying them. Even National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Barak's closest political ally, was surprised to hear about the meeting. Labor ministers and MKs expressed anger at Barak for leaving them in the dark. Barak informed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (Kadima) of his decision during Wednesday morning's security cabinet meeting and then requested a meeting with Olmert. The prime minister kept him waiting outside his office for 45 minutes and then told him that he had already heard what Barak intended to say from the media and that there was no need to elaborate. While some Barak advisers told him at the late-night meeting that he should call for Livni to depose Olmert, he decided to stay out of internal Kadima politics. Barak also considered calling for a national emergency government led by Likud in an effort to destroy Kadima but ultimately decided that this would detract from his goal of deposing Olmert without triggering an election. "In the wake of the present situation and considering the challenges Israel faces, including Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria, Iran, the captive soldiers and the peace process, the prime minister cannot simultaneously lead the government and conduct his personal affairs," Barak told a press conference in the Knesset. "Out of consideration for the good of the country and the accepted norms, I believe the prime minister must detach himself from the day-to-day leadership of the country." Barak said it was not up to Labor to decide whether the prime minister stepped aside by suspending himself or by resigning. Kadima, he said, needed to do some "soul searching" to choose its way and leader, warning that if Olmert did not quit, he would meet with other factions to agree on a date for the next election, a promise he also made a year ago following the release of the interim Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War. "We're not coming to Kadima with a stop watch," he said. "[But] this has to happen soon, and I mean soon." Barak denied coordinating his statement with Livni, but he said he would rather Kadima form a new government than initiate an early election. "The country needs stability, so I think it is right to form a government with the current Knesset," Barak said. "But I'm not afraid of elections. I think Labor will win."