Tag Archives: Ehud Barak

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For Netanyahu and Barak, the knives come out

Ehud Barak is fighting for his political future. And if there’s anyone in Israel who knows how to fight against impossible odds, it’s him. Israel’s most decorated soldier of all time, the legendary commander of the IDF’s most elite unit, the man who spent most of his life biting on a dagger between his teeth – is now facing a hopeless battle for political survival. Hopeless because, apart from a fistful of nondescript members of Knesset, the defense minister has no political base, no allies in any of the other parties, and has been finally precluded from an assured place on the next Likud list. With no real political home [his Independence Party is not polled to clear the electoral threshold] and nowhere else to go, the warrior is cornered. And now he’s doing what all good warriors are trained to do: fight their way out, by all means possible, take no prisoners, no holds barred.

First, Barak went after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a former nightclub bouncer who knows a thing or two about scrapping. After Lieberman launched into Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ for his speech at the United Nations General Assembly [in which Abbas labeled Israel an Apartheid state carrying out ethnic cleansing of Palestinians], saying that Abbas should be removed from power, Barak issued a statement saying that Lieberman “should not be formulating his own private diplomatic policy with the Palestinians, should not be calling for the removal of Abbas, and in any case does not represent Israeli government policy.”
Ouch. In other words, Barak was saying: “you can visit Bosnia and Tonga, but let the big boys handle the real diplomacy with America and the Palestinians.” It was not a shot across the bow; it was an invitation to a knife fight. So far, Lieberman hasn’t accepted, yet. And he might not have to.

For just as Barak was wiping Lieberman’s blood from his dagger, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was once under Barak’s command in The Unit, dropped a bomb on his own minister of defense. In leaked comments to Channel 2 television, the most widely viewed prime time news show in the country, Netanyahu was reported to have told Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz that Barak was “stoking conflict” between Jerusalem and the White House, and then presenting himself as the “savior” of the crucial alliance.

Steinitz, who has never seen a day of battle in his life, has been directing sniper fire at Barak for months, mostly over Barak’s obstinate refusal to cut the defense budget but also over Barak’s demand to be included on the Likud list in the next election. Two weeks ago Steinitz traded his sniper rifle for an RPG when he publicly warned Netanyahu to be wary of Barak’s “treacherous nature.”

But on Tuesday night, the hand-held weapons were put down in favor of much bigger munitions. Netanyahu and Steinitz were ostensibly meeting to discuss the severe, and necessary, cuts to the 2013 national budget, and the trouble they’re going to have passing it through their coalition partners. But what came out of the meeting instead of a balanced budget was a blistering political attack on Barak, accusing him of the worst possible treachery.

“He traveled to the US to stoke the conflict between us and the Americans in order to come off as the savior – the moderate party that reconciles between the sides,” Netanyahu said, according to a source who was present at the meeting.

Barak must have been stunned by the shockwaves, but regained his footing and responded quickly.

In press releases to the media, both on the record but mostly off, Barak intimated that it was Netanyahu’s clear and public preference for Mitt Romney and his pressure on the Obama administration to take action on Iran which was causing serious fires in the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem. Furthermore, Barak seemed to be saying, it was the minister of defense who was trying to put those fires out. Barak’s media statements left no room for doubt: Barak was the guardian of the most strategically valuable asset the State of Israel has: its bipartisan support from both sides of the aisle in Congress; guarding it against Netanyahu, who was recklessly placing that support in grave danger. Barak’s media briefing is a burst of well-aimed cover fire.

But Barak is hopelessly isolated and outgunned. He has no friends in any of the center-left parties; certainly none in Labor, which he abandoned and tried to dismember. He has no friends in Kadima or in Yair Lapid’s new party. Barak has taken the word ‘Independence’ – the name of his party – to an entirely new level. He may as well call it ‘Completely Alone.”

But Barak is not the only one pinned down and taking fire from several directions. Netanyahu’s attack on his defense minister is an indication that the prime minister finds himself in an impossible situation regarding the 2013 state budget. Netanyahu has to pass a particularly austere budget and has to find some 15 billion shekels of cuts in it. When he looks to make cuts to Shas’ child and housing alliances, he hits a wall of rejection. Cuts to child allowances and housing benefits spell catastrophe for the ultra-Orthodox sector, so Shas will fight them tooth and nail. Netanyahu doesn’t want to lose their electoral support though, which comes in at about 18 Knesset seats, all told [together with the UTJ].

When Netanyahu looks to make cuts to the bloated civil service, he runs into the powerful Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini, who can threaten to flood the streets with protesting workers. The one thing Netanyahu doesn’t want to see going into elections are streets full of protesting blue-collar workers, and definitely not people setting themselves on fire, as was a brief trend here recently. I’m not the bad guy, Netanyahu says, I’ve governed responsibly and spent responsibly. But deep cuts are necessary. So if Netanyahu can’t cut from the haredim, and he can’t cut from the government workforce, and he can’t raise taxes any more than he already has, the only other place he can get such a big chunk of change is the defense budget. Hence his need to weaken Barak, who has stood firm against cuts to the military’s finances.

Netanyahu confidants said Barak has decided to separate himself from the prime minister due to electoral considerations and that Barak is hoping that the Independence party, which he founded in 2011 after he left Labor, will earn enough votes in the next elections to surpass the threshold required to receive seats in the Knesset.

If this is really what Barak hopes to achieve, his fight with the prime minister might not get him there, as Netanyahu remains popular, and has recently moved to lower the volume in Israel’s tempestuous relationship with the Obama administration. The sad and ironic fact is that, more than Israel has become a wedge issue in the American election, America has become a wedge issue in the upcoming Israeli elections. All options remain on the table, but the tables have definitely turned.

Is Israel bluffing on Iran?

When it comes to threatening a massive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities [and by extension launching a full-scale war against Iran and its proxies] is Israel bluffing, or are we really going to do it? If the government believes that it can do it alone, without even informing the Americans, will it? This is what everybody from Washington to Tehran, and everyone in between, wants to know. Continue reading

Requiem, or new lease on life for Labor?

The two coin-operated black-leather massage couches, the kind that you sit in and relax while the little motorized balls inside the leather work their way up your leg muscles and into your back and back down again, should have been working overtime. But none of the 1200 Labor Party convention delegates packed into the smoke-filled cafeteria at the Tel Aviv Convention Center on Tuesday had any time for a 5-minute massage.

The last time the Labor delegates convened two months before the general elections in November was over a simple vote on internal party rules and procedures. This time they were deciding Labor’s future. Sitting around cafeteria tables, the conversations were about how Labor’s anti-coalition MKs would behave after they lost Tuesday’s vote, whether they would split the party, whether the party itself had any future, and, which jobs would be given to which ministers and MKs. Continue reading

Mutiny and machinations in Israel’s fourth largest party

This is how Labor dies. Not with a whimper. Not with a bang. More like assisted suicide.

Mark this day, Tuesday 24 March 2009. It is on this day that Israel’s founding party ‘finishes its historical role’. Regardless of which way the vote in the convention goes today, Labor is finished. If Barak wins, Labor will serve as the fig leaf for Netanyahu’s ‘orange and black’ administration, gradually withering away under international diplomatic isolation and economic stress. If Barak loses, he could jump ship and join Bibi, alone or with a few others, while leaving the rest of Labor [what will they call themselves, the Real Labor, True Labor, Provisional Labor, Continuity Labor?] to rot under the long shadow cast by the much bigger Kadima. Seven constantly-bickering opposition MKs won’t take Labor over the next electoral threshold. Continue reading

Happy New War

New year, new war.

Some observations:

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is taking the most aggressive approach to Hamas this time round, rejecting ceasefire proposals and saying that when she wins the general elections and becomes Prime Minister, she’ll destroy Hamas. Livni is trying to take moderate voters away from the Likud who may be worried that Netanyahu’s party is too right wing. Livni’s talking tough because a) she is tough [her family hail from pre-state Jewish underground groups] and b) Kadima is lagging in the polls behind Likud, so taking a hard line stance on Hamas should endear her to many on the right. This election will be decided by about 8-10 percent floating voters, most of them to be had between Kadima and Likud. Continue reading

In Sderot, eyeing Gaza’s Black Sabbath

David Bouskila had a long and busy Friday night. The workload and
consultations started again very early on Saturday morning. So at about
11:30 a.m., when he finally found a few minutes to rest, he walked into his
bedroom and let his hefty body slump onto the mattress.

The second his head hit the pillow, IAF bombs hit their marks in nearby Gaza
City causing a thunderous sonic boom which shook Bouskila’s home. Sderot’s
new mayor knew it was not a good time to catch some sleep.

David Bouskila

Credit: Sderot media center

Bouskila is speaking on his cell phone to the BBC when I catch up with him.
“We praise the IDF and the government for acting after having been under
rocket attack for over eight years,” he says. Speaking in good English all
the way through the interview, Bouskila spells out the letters of his name
to the BBC reporter on the other end of the line. Continue reading

DC through Jerusalem, Tehran via Damascus

Syria’s Bashar Assad, derided as the son even his own father didn’t want to succeed him, is turning out to share many of Hafez’s wily and cautious traits. Despite a series of recent blows to his homeland security (the killings of Hizbullah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh and Syrian military adviser Muhammad Suleiman, the IAF’s destruction of his nascent nuclear plant, and an American Special Forces raid on his border with Iraq), Assad junior is managing to keep a steady hand on the reins of power.

Early intelligence assessments that he would prove a weak and perhaps even quickly disposable successor have been disproved.

Assad Jr. is plainly looking to the long-term. He has accounts to settle with several players in the region, but for the moment he’s playing it cool. And for this, and his indirect talks with Israel, the West, and notably France, have rewarded him with greater acceptance. Continue reading

Israeli elections set for February 10

Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik set the elections for February 10, 2009. That’s about 100 days from now.

Here are a few observations from some of the polls released today.

In a Haaretz Dialogue poll, those asked who is most able to deal with Israel’s security problems, 33 percent of respondents answered Netanyahu, 26 percent said Defense Minister Ehud Barak, head of the Labor Party, and 14 percent said Livni. And this is why Kadima leader Tzipi Livni needs former chief of staff and minister of defense Shaul Mofaz so badly, to bolster her and Kadima’s security credentials. Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, while seen as a Mr. Security for having served in the secretive Shabak for many years, has taken a beating of late for his handling of the Uri Bar-Lev affair and other police bungles. There is a general sense in the country that Livni, as prime minister, would be tested by the likes of Hizbullah, Hamas and maybe even the Syrians. With Mofaz [as possible Foreign Minister] and Ehud Barak [as Defense Minister] at her side, Livni would look a hell of a lot less vulnerable. Livni also desperately needs Mofaz to be happy with his lot in life and not deepen his animosity for her after her narrow win over him in the Kadima leadership race; she does not need a rebel camp in Kadima. Continue reading

Reviving the Arab Peace Initiative

Seems there is a coordinated campaign to revive the Saudi Peace Plan, [AKA Arab Peace Initiative]. In what seems like a coordinated media blitz, several regional leaders and commentators have brought it up today.

First, there was Ehud Barak, who said on Army Radio this morning that Israel was seriously reconsidering the plan: “There is room in the Israeli coalition for the Saudi initiative,” he said. “We have a mutual interest with moderate Arab elements on the issues of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.” Continue reading

Barak unplugged

There is nothing I can report to you from our one-and-a-half hour meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak at our offices today, as it was agreed beforehand that the briefing would be entirely off record.

What I can do however, is to give you my impressions of Barak at this point in time, and the thing that stands out most about him right now is that he is angry and feels that he needs to act: angry at the way the government is handling things in general; angry at Kadima, angry at what he believes are lost opportunities and wasted resources.

When talking about strategic and defense issues – Barak’s words were measured and his tone relaxed, and I got that reassured feeling that on these matters, Ehud Barak is the best possible person for the job. One year into the job as Defense Minister, Barak is confident that the security establishment is on the right track to meet the threats of the future, and he comes across as eminently believable. Continue reading

The consigliore in the Knesset

Legend has it that last year, when the first Winograd Report into the Second Lebanon War was about to be dropped like a cluster bomb onto the Israeli political and military scene, political king-maker and spin-master supreme Reuven Adler switched off his cellular phone, packed his bags and hopped onto a plane to New York.

Adler, head of a vast media and advertising empire and long-time strategic consultant to the top political echelon, was in a pickle: He was serving as an adviser to just too many cabinet members (almost half the ministers, from all coalition parties). Many of them needed guidance on how to outmaneuver, depose, discredit and beat down their fellow cabinet members ­ other Adler clients. Continue reading

The Chatter-Patter-O-Meter

Just sat in on the final panel of President Shimon Peres’ ‘Facing Tomorrow’ Conference, where Mr. Television Haim Yavin hosted Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Trade and Industry Minister Eli Yishai and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

All four politicians were asked by the moderator to give a speech, lasting ten minutes, about what Israel means to them. Needless to say, each one used the opportunity to present what amounted to his/ her own electoral platform. Perhaps they are smelling elections in the air.

The speeches were void of any real headlines or news; just the fact that all four of them were on the stage together was interesting in itself. What I found more interesting however was the crowd’s reactions to each of the speakers. There were at least several thousand conference -goers in attendance, and I think many of them were tired and restless at the end of a very busy three-day conference.

Instead of dissecting what the speakers said, I thought I’d give you an observation of the level of chatter and patter by the audience members during the speeches as an indication of who was charismatic and who was not, who held the audience’s attention and who meandered and lost the crowd, which messages were welcomed and which missed the mark. I call the it chatter-and-patter-o-meter, from 1 [audience chatted amongst themselves very little and were absorbed by what the speaker was saying] to 5 [audience basically ignored the speaker and chatted and pattered away freely]. Continue reading