Veteran Labor MK Ephraim Sneh is quitting Labor and forming a new political framework called Israel Hazaka (Israel is Strong), he announced Sunday in a press conference at Tel Aviv's Beit Sokolow. Sneh informed Labor chairman Ehud Barak of his decision in a 10-minute phone conversation Saturday night after months during which they did not speak to one another. Sneh, who had been a vocal Barak critic in the past, made a point of not mentioning him in his prepared address and downplaying Barak's role in his departure afterward. "This decision to form Israel Hazaka is not a result of my personal relations with anyone, but because of what is needed for the country," Sneh said. "Labor unfortunately lost its will to lead processes in Israel and the Middle East. I tried to stop it, but I realized the party is not ready for this yet." Barak unceremoniously fired Sneh from his job as deputy defense minister when he took over as defense minister. Barak's poor relationship with other MKs has convinced leading Labor officials that Sneh would not be the last MK to leave Labor. The Green Party and a new environmental party that is currently in the process of being formed have wooed two more MKs from the Labor-Meimad faction, Ophir Paz-Pines and Rabbi Michael Melchior. The Greens asked Paz-Pines to head their party. Melchior is also being pursued by elements in Kadima. Labor MKs Amir Peretz and Yoram Marciano, who have been political allies of Sneh in recent years, criticized Barak's handling of Sneh, but said they intended to remain in Labor. Barak himself admitted making a mistake in how he treated Sneh, both in a Labor ministerial meeting on Sunday morning and in his talk with the departing MK. Sneh said he intended to submit a letter of resignation from the Knesset in upcoming days, because he owed his seat to Labor. He will be replaced in the Knesset by the next name on the Labor list, Druse politician Shakib Shanan. Looking clearly relieved at the press conference, Sneh revealed that he had been contemplating leaving Labor for a long time and lamented giving his heart and soul to the party for two decades. But he looked forward to building the new party, which he said would focus on security and socioeconomic issues, while promoting the peace process with the Palestinians and honest government. He said he had not asked anyone to join him yet in the party, which he will build from the ground up. "Israel deserves better leadership and a better political system," Sneh said. "The leadership is deteriorating and the public is disgusted by the system. There is a need to fill the gap with a party that can handle security crises with courage and good judgment, while improving our system of government and ensuring transparency." Asked whether he was taking a risk by forming a new party, Sneh said, "I have risked my life many times; this is merely risking my career. I have been called naÃ¯ve many times, yet every time I succeeded." Gal Tziperman Lotan contributed to this report.