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BARAK IS BACK BIG-TIME

Ehud Barak: 'I Pledge To Restore IDF's Strength & Israel's Deterrent Capability'

Laborites Voted For Barak Hoping His Experience Will Fill Leadership Vacuum Since Second Lebanon War

On Becoming Defense Minister Barak's First Mission May Be Finding An Answer To Rocketing Of Sderot

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

With his election victory in the Labor party, Ehud Barak must now show the Israeli people he has answers to their pressing security problems. IsraCast is of the view that Barak's comeback is a direct result of Israel's failure to win the Second Lebanon War last summer, an event that has shaken public confidence in the nation's leadership. Barak's expected appointment as defense minister may strengthen Prime Minister Ehud Olmert - but if Barak succeeds he could eventually upstage Olmert and become the 'de facto' leader in security and foreign affairs.

The Labor party has given former prime minister Ehud Barak a second chance - it will now be up to Barak to start providing answers to the dire threats facing Israel today. If he succeeds, the incoming defense minister could be on his way to eventually becoming prime minister.

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

How has Ehud Barak, one of the most unpopular leaders ever, managed to claw his way back to leadership of the Labor party? It is a direct outcome of Israel's failure to win the Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah last summer. The country's faith in its political and military leaders was deeply shaken and has not recovered to this very day. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz proved inept - two members of this trio are gone, Olmert himself could face a final censure by the Winograd enquiry this fall. All this at a time Israel faces relentless Palestinian rocketing from Gaza without an Israeli answer, sabre-rattling and peace overtures from Syria, a Hezbollah regrouping in south Lebanon, and Iranian President Ahmadinejad's ranting about a countdown to Israel's destruction by his nuclear weapons. Without a credible leader at the helm is it any wonder that the Israeli people have been adrift facing storm clouds on every horizon - this is where Ehud Barak stepped in. His first term as PM of less than two years, was the shortest of any elected Israeli leader and Barak left it maligned by both friend and foe. When he began his quiet comeback campaign some ten months ago, he rated a poor third or fourth place among Labor hopefuls. Barak made it back to the top because Laborites, like the rest of the country, are searching for answers about how to cope with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Barak, a former vaunted IDF Chief of Staff, Defense Minister with PM's experience to boot filled the order more than any other Labor candidate.

The strong showing of Ami Ayalon reflected the desire to select a knight in shining armor who never took a 'time-out' to make money. But when it came to electing the best man, Barak's political experience showed by his running a no-fault campaign. Ayalon tripped up by zig-zagging on Olmert and by forming an alliance with Amir Peretz. Barak showed he was smart enough to realize he had to create a new image of a leader who had seen the light and the need to be a team leader. By keeping mum, he did not risk shattering the impression or illusion that he was indeed the right man at the right time.

Laborites also had the case of Amram Mitzna seared into their political memory. Mitzna, like Ayalon, was also a highly respected general without political experience who stormed the Labor party leadership. But the wily Arik Sharon made mincemeat of Mitzna in the election of 2003.

Ayalon may be a good and honorable man but Laborites decided this was not the time for another experiment. Moreover, Barak had defeated the Likud's Bibi Netanyahu before and maybe he was right about being able to do it again. The rhetoric rings a bell but in a national election, Barak's being able to beat Bibi, will depend on Barak's performance on security.

Olmert & Barak: this new combination is a marriage of the utmost political necessity. The Prime Minister is living on borrowed political time between one Winograd condemnation and apparently before another. He needs time to try and regain public confidence and a credible defense minister like Barak gives Olmert a new lease on life. If the state of the nation improves by the time of the next Winograd report in the fall, Olmert will be able to reject any recommendation that he resign citing the national interest. Some commentators have even been declaring that Olmert is the big winner of the Barak victory. This is oversimplifying it. The eyes and ears of Israel will now be focused on Defense Minister Ehud Barak's every word trying to discern if he has the answers that no one else has. Paradoxically, for over a year now Israel in effect had no real defense minister, Amir Peretz was no more than figurehead at best. But now Defense Minister Barak will assume a role comparable and perhaps surpassing that of the Prime Minister. Will Olmert be able to make any meaningful political steps toward the Palestinians, Syria, and the Arab initiative without the full consent of Barak. In effect if he lives up to expectations, Barak could become prime minister De facto. Until now, Olmert has not retrieved his loss of credibility. Case in point Olmert and Peretz appear at a loss over what to do about the Palestinian rocketing of Sderot and took a page out of Arkadi Gaydamak's book in evacuating residents. This will be Barak's first test as defense minister how to stop the rocketing of Sderot and to contain the outright civil war being waged between Hamas and Fatah just over the border in Gaza. If he succeeds, the public will likely view it to his credit and not Olmert's.

Ehud Barak succeeded in making a comeback inside his own party by persuading most Laborites to give him the benefit of the doubt. By stepping into the public domain, Barak has to deliver on security - Israelis will be counting on Barak for solutions; they've had their fill of alibis from political leaders since the Second Lebanon War.

David Essing

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