Ehud Barak quits politics in pre-vote shock

To remain Israel defence minister until new govt is formed; to spend more time with family

Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday he was quitting politics, a surprise decision that deepens uncertainty over how Israel will confront Iran’s nuclear programme.

Barak’s political fortunes appeared to be on the rise after Israel’s eight-day Gaza offensive ended in a truce, but polls predicted his centrist party, a junior partner in right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, would win no more than four seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament in a Jan. 22 election.

A former head of the centre-left Labour Party, Barak has insisted he and Netanyahu have been united on policy towards Iran, an issue that has often put the prime minister at odds with US President Barack Obama.

But as the only centrist member of the governing coalition of right-wing and pro-settler parties, Barak has frequently visited Washington for talks with top US officials and had criticised Netanyahu for airing differences with the United States.

At a hastily-called news conference, he said he would not be a candidate in the national ballot that Netanyahu’s Likud party is forecast to win.

He said that he would remain in his post until a new government was formed in about three months’ time, signalling his decision would have no immediate effect on Israel’s calculations on how best to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“The Iranian issue remains very important, even after I leave my position in three months. It will remain a central issue on the agenda,” said Barak, who was often seen as a moderating force in considering possible military action against Iran.

The 70-year-old ex-general said he wanted to spend more time with his family. Politics, he said, “has never been a particular passion of mine, and I feel there is room to allow other people to serve in senior roles in Israel”.

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