Mod­er­ate Ehud Barak’s leaked Iran bomb­shell could shake up Is­raeli pol­i­tics

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY DAN PERRY AND JOSEF FE­D­ER­MAN

For­mer De­fense Min­is­ter Ehud Barak’s com­ments that Is­rael nearly at­tacked Iran’s nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties but the plan was scut­tled by mil­i­tary men and cow­ardly politi­cians could shake up Is­raeli pol­i­tics.

The leaked in­ter­view, in which Barak also de­scribed Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu as in­de­ci­sive and ob­ses­sively pes­simistic, was the talk of the town Sun­day in an Is­rael ob­sessed about Iran. But be­yond the hand-wring­ing, the al­ways cal­cu­lat­ing Barak may have been fo­cused on the fu­ture, per­haps for a fi­nal run at the coun­try’s lead­er­ship.

Also a for­mer prime min­is­ter, Barak en­joys re­spect as the last leader of the mod­er­ate La­bor Party to win an elec­tion, de­feat­ing Ne­tanyahu in 1999. But he also is seen by an­a­lysts as hav­ing squan­dered his op­por­tu­nity, last­ing just two years in a term that ce­mented his rep­u­ta­tion as bril­liant but ar­ro­gant, and prone to over­com­pli­cated anal­y­sis and non­stop machi­na­tions.

Barak

later re­turned

to

poli- tics, serv­ing as de­fense min­is­ter from 2007 to 2013, when he was aligned with a re-elected Ne­tanyahu on the dan­gers of a nu­cle­ar­armed Iran. He left pol­i­tics as the La­bor Party was weak and torn be­tween fac­tions. Now 73, Barak may run­ning out of chances for another come­back.

Barak’s in­ter­view, leaked Fri­day to Is­raeli Chan­nel 2 tele­vi­sion co­in­cide with the re­lease of a new bi­og­ra­phy about him, im­me­di­ately thrust him back in the lime­light.

“I imag­ine he would like to re­turn to pol­i­tics,” vet­eran com­men­ta­tor Rina Ma­zli­ach told the pri­vately owned broad­caster. Barak wants “to re­turn to the Is­raeli con­scious­ness.”

In the record­ings, Barak ad­dressed one of the coun­try’s deep­est se­crets — whether Is­rael re­ally was pre­pared to take mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iran’s nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties.

For years, both he and Ne­tanyahu is­sued veiled threats to at­tack if the world did not take ac­tion. Those threats, while of­ten dis­missed by com­men­ta­tors as blus­ter, were widely seen as a key fac­tor in ral­ly­ing in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions against Iran.

Barak told his in­ter­viewer that both he and Ne­tanyahu fa­vored an at­tack in 2010, but the mil­i­tary chief of staff at the time, Gabi Ashke­nazi, said Is­rael did not have the op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity.

“You can’t go to the Cab­i­net when the chief of staff will go and say ‘Ex­cuse me, I told you no,”’ Barak said.

The fol­low­ing year, he said two in­flu­en­tial Cab­i­net min­is­ters had sec­ond thoughts and scut­tled an at­tack. Then, in 2012, a joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cise with the U.S. and a planned visit by then-U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon Panetta got in the way, he said.

Chan­nel 2 said Barak un­suc­cess­fully tried to pre­vent it from air­ing the in­ter­view, but that the mil­i­tary cen­sor’s of­fice per­mit­ted it. There was no com­ment Sun­day from Barak, Ne­tanyahu or Ashke­nazi, the for­mer mil­i­tary chief.

The Cab­i­net min­is­ters sin­gled out by Barak — Yu­val Steinitz and De­fense Min­is­ter Moshe Yaalon — also de­clined to com­ment.

Avig­dor Lieber­man, then-Is­rael’s for­eign min­is­ter, ap­peared to sup­port Barak’s ver­sion in an in­ter­view with Chan­nel 2. “If a prime min­is­ter can­not pass through his Cab­i­net a de­ci­sion that he wanted, prob­a­bly there is a prob­lem,” Lieber­man said Sun­day.

Danny Dor, one of the au­thors of the new book, said Barak knew he was be­ing recorded and that there was never any prom­ise not to pub­lish them. And few have seemed to ques­tion that Barak knew what he was do­ing in giv­ing the in­ter­view.

“What is cer­tain is that there is a mo­tive. Some hid­den in­tent,” wrote com­men­ta­tor Sima Kad­mon in the Ye­diot Ahronot daily news­pa­per.

Barak may be in­tent on re­pair­ing his tar­nished im­age and claim­ing a place in history. But the com­ments also come as Is­rael’s dovish left des­per­ately searches for a leader. Like other La­bor fig­ures, Barak — much more than Ne­tanyahu — would pri­or­i­tize dis­en­gag­ing from the West Bank and its mil­lions of Pales­tini­ans chaf­ing un­der Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion.

Isaac Herzog, a mild-man­nered lawyer who lost to Ne­tanyahu in Is­rael’s March elec­tion that poll­sters said was up for grabs, is sure to face a lead­er­ship cri­sis in the com­ing months.

Cen­trist Is­raelis are search­ing for a leader who can give Ne­tanyahu a fight, mainly over the Pales­tini­ans but also the coun­try’s move to­ward con­ser­vatism and re­li­gion.

The seem­ing front-run­ner to re­place Herzog is Ashke­nazi, the for­mer mil­i­tary chief sin­gled out by Barak as block­ing the at­tack on Iran.

Ashke­nazi has been caught up in a scan­dal sur­round­ing the ap­point­ment of his suc­ces­sor in 2010. At the time, Barak ac­cused his army chief of im­prop­erly interfering in the ap­point­ment process.

But pros­e­cu­tors re­cently de­ter­mined there was not enough ev­i­dence to in­dict, pre­par­ing the way for what is ex­pected to be a dra­matic en­trance into pol­i­tics. Herzog al­ready has voiced hope that Ashke­nazi joins the La­bor Party.

Barak and Ashke­nazi re­main bit­ter en­e­mies and an­a­lysts say Barak’s com­ments now may be timed to trip up his old foe.

Barak “wants to re­mind peo­ple where he was, what he did, how im­por­tant he was, how ra­tio­nal he was,” said Reu­ven Hazan, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at He­brew Univer­sity in Jerusalem. “When Ashke­nazi starts do­ing the po­lit­i­cal lec­ture cir­cuit, Barak wants to be able to cre­ate and raise as many ob­sta­cles as pos­si­ble.”

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