One cannot talk about responsibility and the good of the nation and at the same time desert the Defense Ministry, topple the government, and drag the whole nation to general elections.
When making the decision on whether to fulfill his miserable Labor primaries promise to Ophir Pines to quit the government or to act on what he views as his commitment and responsibility to the country, Pines apparently came in second place, what can we do.
The way in which Barak announced his decision should also be a precedent repeated later. Without needless drama, in a short announcement that did not complicate him with more promises or hints that he will need to deliver on later on, Barak faced the media, which awaited the government meeting, and just like one takes off a band-aid, quickly, he delivered an announcement that had the potential to shake up everything.
Barak’s decision was preceded by three difficult days. People say that the defense minister consulted with anyone he encountered. He did it in his typical way, listening more than spoke, hiding more than he revealed.
As usual, he managed to confuse the people he spoke with to the point where two figures I spoke with Saturday were certain that they know what Barak intends to do – yet they spoke about opposite moves.
Barak’s close associates say that with his gut feeling and initial instinct Barak was close to the reserve soldiers’ position – the ones who called on him to deliver on his earlier pledge and quit a government that failed. The defense minister’s associates explained that after all Barak grew in a place where, following failure, the question asked is whether the subordinates still have faith in their commander.
Barak is not ignoring the harsh report, the associates said, he believes the report has complex implications and conclusions and he will address them when the time comes – yet he too realizes that what Israel’s leadership needs at this time is a responsible adult.
Olmert the hostage
From a more cynical point of view we can say that Barak’s gut and instinct were also close to the polls and his public image. Politically, not that anyone would suspect such motives of him heaven forbid, quitting the government now would be akin to political suicide. On the other hand, one of Barak’s associates was right when he said that in Israeli politics you can never know. Things change overnight, and what appears like a political mistake one moment can turn out to be a wise move, and vice versa.
So the Labor party is staying in the government. The big crisis we expected in the wake of the Winograd report is behind us. Some claim that from now on Barak will keep Olmert on a short leash. The possibility that Barak would bring the elections forward would be a constant threat on the prime minister and thus he will become a hostage of his most senior minister. This may be so.
Yet the man who survived the five members of the Winograd Commission will apparently survive this too.