PostScript: Time for Barak to bolt

We cannot afford a situation where, while the prime minister appeals to the world for understanding on the Iran issue, he is being shot in the foot by his own defense minister.

Ehud Barak talks on the phone 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/POOL Old)
Ehud Barak talks on the phone 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/POOL Old)
‘Barak” means “lightning” in Hebrew. Ehud Barak, in any known language, usually means trouble.
One of the three most decorated soldiers in the state’s history, he is now at odds with Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, whom he serves as minister of defense.
From staunch allies that allowed Barak to stay in government though bereft of any political backing, he and Netanyahu are now stabbing each other in the back via “sources close to....”
As if there were no ayatollahs in Iran bent on Israel’s destruction; no war on our northern border in Syria, with one of the world’s largest deposits of chemical weapons waiting to go up in flames; no possible transition in the American administration that needs to be prepared for; no Hezbollah in Lebanon sitting on tens of thousands of missiles and rockets aimed in this direction; no serious social problems in this country that need to be synchronized with Israel’s real defense needs; no yeshiva students or “Tal Law” alternatives that need to be dealt with.
No, the country’s future rests on whether Barak coordinated his visit to Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and former chief of staff in Barack Obama’s White House, or not.
That is what is at issue here.
The defense minister has long overstayed his welcome. Instead of watching the enemy, he is now playing the enemy with the prime minister, irresponsibly using Israel’s relations with the United States as the ball, and causing serious strategic damage along the way.
Barak is universally famous (or infamous) for thinking that he knows it all; that he is cleverer than all others combined. He likes to pull the strings, all of them, and trusts almost no one. His method is to divide and rule; to undermine those above him, and to instill fear in those who work for him. His arrogance is legendary.
It is this flaw, arrogance, that made him the shortest-serving prime minister in Israel; lost him the leadership of the Labor Party; made it impossible for him to retain a loyal staff, other than a few lackeys, no matter what position he has held. He is now undermining the prime minister, the cabinet and the very defense establishment he heads.
The defense minister should have his eye on the ball, not be playing with it.
What brings this all to mind is the memory of that afternoon, exactly 39 years ago tomorrow, October 6, a Shabbat like this year, when at a few minutes to 2 Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked Israel’s positions along the Suez Canal and on the Golan Heights in the opening moves of the Yom Kippur War.
Then, as now with Iran, the threat was blatantly clear and the need for strong strategic ties with America almost an existential issue. But now, unlike then, the threat is not an attack on a handful of men on the Canal and the Hermon, hundreds of kilometers away from Israel’s heartland, but the specter of an Iranian nuclear bomb the prime minister tells us could be inevitable by spring.
Barak is an extremely accomplished person in many regards, his brilliant military career aside. He is highly educated, well-read, a pianist and watchmaker, and possessed of a creative mind that has conjured up some of this country’s most outrageous military exploits.
As a politician, however, he has been nothing but a disaster.
Very few people have entered politics with such high expectations and failed so miserably. When he swept in as prime minister at the head of One Israel in May 1999, his party received 26 seats in the Knesset. In February 2001, with the second intifada raging, and disappointment in him high, he was trounced in a direct election by Ariel Sharon, himself not a popular political figure in Israel, by almost two to one.
He then left politics, came back into politics, managed to take over the Labor Party, lost the Labor Party and now sits in the cabinet as the head of a breakaway faction, the Independence Party, that exists only by virtue of it being a member of the coalition and the holder of the five seats in the Knesset that give Netanyahu his current majority of 66 out of 120.
Barak has been defense minister for too long. On his watch we have seen unprecedented politicization of the IDF’s hierarchy that has come to light with the Harpaz Affair; a situation where the chief of the General Staff and the head of the Southern Command do not speak to each other, and an almost inexplicable need by the defense minister and his bureau to micro-manage the army down to the lowest levels of command.
From the day he joined Ehud Olmert’s cabinet as defense minister in June 2007, Barak has been duplicitous. Less than a week after taking his seat at the cabinet table, Barak passed a resolution in the Labor Party that if Olmert did not resign as prime minister by October because of the way he handled the 2006 Second Lebanese War the party would leave the coalition. That never happened, and he and Olmert went on to conduct Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008 and 2009, but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Barak had come to the government to undermine its leadership, not work with it.
Politics, then as now, ruled the day.
Moshe Dayan was Israel’s defense minister from the euphoric period previous to the 1967 Six Day War through to the deep, dark, chasm left behind him when he closed the door to his office in 1974.
Had he known when enough was enough, had he handed over to the next generation earlier, perhaps the war that was staring Israel in the face could have been avoided.
Instead, Dayan remained glued to his seat, comfortable with the knowledge that he knew everything, reading the morning papers while intelligence officers tried to explain that war was on the way, and sharing political gossip with prime minister Golda Meir and her colleagues, while the officers droned on.
This is one political fight too many; the stakes are too high. We cannot afford a situation where, while the prime minister appeals to the world for understanding on the Iran issue, he is being shot in the foot by his own defense minister.
For one blessed day last week the world’s media carried a photo of Netanyahu showing the world a sketch of the Iranian nuclear program. Some people snickered, others laughed, but the whole world was speaking about it. Until Barak turned up, that is, like a bad penny, bringing internal dissension and suspicions to the fore, and laying by the wayside the critical problem: Iran’s bomb, expected as early as the spring, if the prime minister is to be believed.
We all know this is happening because elections are in the air. Unless Barak can close a deal with Netanyahu before the voters have their say, and while his five-member party is still relevant to the coalition’s survival, he may have no political future. Creating this now public row with the prime minister, however, should be giving Netanyahu every incentive not to make a deal. It is time for Barak to leave the stage.Hirsh Goodman is a journalist and author living in Jerusalem. His latest book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in the history category.