So Ehud Barak exits the political stage on top of the political scene. He was at his best now during the military and political activities during the recent Gaza War, has been a major force in orchestrating the more measured Israeli strategy addressing the Iranian nuclear threat, and was extremely effective in dealing with the American defense establishment in perfecting the Iron Dome defensive system which made such an impressive debut in the war with Hamas.
Domestically, Barak leaves with a surprise announcement and his current personal ratings higher than have been for some time. He leaves the political world—in which he never was really a natural–and will not stand for the next Knesset; but his departure was hardly Shermanesque. Barak avoids the ugly election campaign in which he would undoubtedly have been personally embarrassed and now he can sit back and listen for the phone to ring. Many in Israel are sure that he is only waiting for the moment to be “drafted” back into the warm bosom of key security decision makers in the country, next time without needing a political base which always made him uncomfortable and within which he was not very effective.
A future Barak can go where he wants politically, whenever he wants, with whomever he wishes, and without any electoral accountability. There are numerous examples for this behavior in Israel, of non-elected personages and former officials joining a government without having a Knesset seat. According to an Israeli colleague of mine the most impressive and effective such model for Barak to follow would be that of Moshe Arens. Unlike many non-elected Ministers whose portfolios were non-security related, Arens joined the Peres and then the Shamir Governments from May 1981-September 1984 as Defense Minister. So too could Barak return again given the authority he would demand.
There is one other ironic feature to Barak’s departure which is not at all coincidental but poignant. As Barak made his announcement, the Likud Party’s pre-campaign primary system was putting together a much more right-wing slate for the Knesset than its current group. Within this environment, Barak would have felt exceedingly uncomfortable. It would have also made his inclinations–to try to move the peace process ahead first before opting for aggressive, military actions—a marginal voice.
Finally, it was not difficult to assume that as a result of the Netanyahu-Lieberman alliance, the Defense portfolio may be (has already been) given to Lieberman as his price for bringing his Yisrael Beitenu party to stand together with Likud in the election. All of these confluence of activities were enough for Barak—the non-politician—to probably make the cleverest political decision of his career.