The Jerusalem Post reports: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced his resignation from political life on Monday, saying his final decision was delayed by Operation Pillar of Defense and hinting at the possibility of being appointed to his post again after the January election.” But don’t count Barak out permanently. He may wind up with nearly as many retirements as Brett Favre. As the report observes, “This is the second time Barak is resigning from politics. The first followed his loss of the premiership to Ariel Sharon in 2001. In 2002, Barak went into business, becoming a multi-millionaire, and returned to politics five years later as defense minister under then-prime minister Ehud Olmert.”
Ruthie Blum, an Israeli journalist, remarks to me, “In this crazy country and political system, he could pop back up like a jack-in-the-box at any moment — if offered the right job.” Blum notes that with the upcoming election, Barak, who formed his own Atzmaut party, would likely have to join another party’s list and then wind up being just another Knesset member. Now he keeps his options, both political and financial, open.
In the U.S., several Middle East observers concur. Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations writes, “His political assets are not his political base, which is virtually non-existent, but his reputation as Israel’s most highly decorated general, his standing as a former prime minister, and most importantly, his personal relationship commanding now Prime Minister Netanyahu in an elite commando unit many years ago. . . .Barak may be done with electoral politics, but he has positioned himself well to serve, if asked, as the defense minister in the next Israeli government if it is led, as is expected, by a reelected Benjamin Netanyahu.” In other words, as one longtime Middle East observer puts it, “If a cat has nine lives, Ehud Barak has ten with a few left to go.”
In any event, many in the U.S. would find his departure troubling. Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies points out, “He has been an integral player in the plans to strike Iran’s nuclear program. That crisis will likely come to a head in 2013.” Certainly Barak’s long tenure in Israeli politics and long sojourn in the Labor Party added political ballast to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Critics of Netanyahu have argued that Barak was a moderating force and that without him Netanyahu will become more hawkish. That remains to be seen (when and if Barak leaves), but it is certainly the case that he was a familiar figure in Washington, D.C., and held some sway with President Obama’s team, which had made a fateful decision early on to take on the prime minister.
While Israel proceeds with its elections and perhaps a change in its defense minister, Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi is trying to mollify his judiciary which, not surprisingly, has objected to his grab of near unlimited powers. An old Middle East hand emails, “He apparently did not foresee the backlash and did step back rhetorically, but I think he revealed the true Muslim Brotherhood: committed to the MB and the Koran, not democracy or the rule of law.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that Morsi is telling judges that his “decree is ‘temporary’ and limited only to ‘sovereignty-related issues.’” The judges however see his rhetoric as cosmetic. (“Morsi now has a dictatorship,” says one representative.) The judges continue their strike, and secular reformers remain angry with Morsi’s reversion to dictatorial rule. If there is a silver lining, it is, as Schanzer observes, that Morsi’s move “unites the secular parties that, until that point, couldn’t agree on the color of hummus.”
To sum up, Israel is in election mode, Egypt is in turmoil, Hamas is not chastened and the centrifuges keep spinning in Tehran. So much for Obama’s notion that he was going to pivot away from the Middle East. If ever a decisive, competent U.S. administration was needed to provide stability, now is the time. Ah well, the parties will have to muddle through with the current U.S. president.