(Israel Twitter)Ehud Barak (Hebrew: אהוד ברק (help·info), born Ehud Brog on 12 February 1942) is an Israeli politician who served as Prime Minister from 1999 until 2001. He was leader of the Labor Party until January 2011 and holds the posts of Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister in Binyamin Netanyahu's government.
Prior to his political career he served as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces. Following a highly decorated career he was appointed Chief of General Staff in 1991, serving until 1995.
Barak was born on 12 February 1942 in kibbutz Mishmar HaSharon in Palestine, the eldest of four sons of Esther (née Godin) and Yisrael Brog. His paternal grandparents, Frieda and Reuven Brog, were murdered in Pušalotas (Pushelat) in the northern Lithuania (then ruled by Russian Empire) in 1912, leaving his father orphaned at the age of two. Barak's maternal grandparents, Elka and Shmuel Godin, died at the Treblinka extermination camp during the Holocaust.
Ehud hebraized his family name from "Brog" to "Barak" in 1959, when he joined the IDF. It was during his military service that he met his future wife, Nava (née Cohen). They had three daughters together. Barak divorced Nava in August 2003. On 30 July 2007 Barak married Nili Priel in a small ceremony in his private residence.
Barak joined the Israel Defense Forces (I.D.F.) in 1959. He served in the IDF for 35 years, rising to the position of Chief of the General Staff and the rank of Rav Aluf, the highest in the Israeli military. During the Yom Kippur War, Barak commanded an improvised regiment of tanks which among other things, helped rescue paratrooper battalion 890 commanded by Yitzhak Mordechai who were suffering heavy losses in the Battle of the Chinese Farm.
Ehud Barak with Legion of Merit
During his service as a commando in the elite Sayeret Matkal, Barak led several highly acclaimed operations, such as: "Operation Isotope", the rescue mission to free the hostages onboard Sabena Flight 571 at Lod Airport in 1972; the 1973 covert mission Operation Spring of Youth in Beirut, in which he was disguised as a woman in order to assassinate members of the Palestine Liberation Organization; Barak was also a key architect of the June 1976 Operation Entebbe, another rescue mission to free the hostages of the Air France aircraft hijacked by terrorists and forced to land at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. These highly acclaimed operations, along with Operation Bayonet led to the dismantling of Palestinian terrorist cell Black September. It has been alluded that Barak also masterminded the Tunis Raid on April 16, 1988, in which PLO leader Abu Jihad was assassinated.
Later he served as head of Aman, the Military Intelligence Directorate (1983–1985), head of Central Command (1986–1987) and Deputy Chief of the General Staff (1987–1991). He served as Chief of the General Staff between 1 April 1991 and 1 January 1995. During this period he implemented the first Oslo Accords and participated in the negotiations towards the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace.
On 7 July 1995 Barak was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs by Yitzhak Rabin. When Shimon Peres formed a new government following Rabin's assassination in November 1995, Barak was made Minister of Foreign Affairs (1995–1996). He was elected to the Knesset on the Labor Party list in 1996, and served as a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Following internal elections after Peres' defeat in the election for Prime Minister in 1996, Barak became the leader of the Labor Party.
Barak was in power during the appointment of the Tal committee which dealt with the controversial issue of ultra-Orthodox Jews' exemption from military service. Riots in October 2000 led to the killing of twelve Israeli-Arabs and one Palestinian by Israel Police and one Jewish civilian by Israeli Arabs.
In 2001 Barak called a special election for Prime Minister. In the contest, he was defeated by Likud leader Ariel Sharon, and subsequently resigned as Labor leader and from the Knesset. He left Israel to work as a senior advisor with United States-based Electronic Data Systems. He also partnered with a private equity company focused on "security-related" work.
Return to politics
In 2005, Barak announced his return to Israeli politics, and ran for leadership of the Labor Party in November. However, in light of his weak poll showings, Barak dropped out of the race early and declared his support for veteran statesman Shimon Peres. Following his failed attempt to maintain leadership of the Labor party, Barak became a partner of the investment company SCP Private Equity Partners, Pennsylvania. He also established a company "Ehud Barak Limited" which is thought to have made over NIS 30 million.
After Peres lost the race to Amir Peretz and left the Labor party, Barak announced he would stay at the party, despite his shaky relationship with its newly elected leader. He declared, however, that he would not run for a spot on the Labor party's Knesset list for the March 2006 elections. Barak's attempt to return to a prominent role in Israel politics seemed to have failed. However, Peretz's hold on the Labor leadership proved unexpectedly shaky as he was badly damaged by negative views of his performance as Defense Minister during the 2006 Lebanon War, which was seen as something less than a success in Israel.
In January 2007 Barak launched a bid to recapture the leadership of the Labor party in a letter acknowledging "mistakes" and "inexperience" during his tenure as Prime Minister. In early March 2007, a poll of Labor Party primary voters put Barak ahead of all other opponents, including Peretz. In the first round of voting, on 28 May 2007, he gained 39% of the votes, more than his two closest rivals, but not enough to win the election.
Ehud Barak and Condoleezza Rice
After winning back the leadership of the Labor party, Barak was sworn in as Minister of Defense on 18 June 2007, as part of Prime Minister Olmert's cabinet reshuffle. However on 1 July 2007, Barak led a successful effort in the Labor central committee to stipulate that Labor would leave the government coalition if Olmert did not resign by September or October 2007. At that time the Winograd Commission would publish its final report on the performance of the Israel Defense Forces and its civilian leadership. The preliminary Winograd report released earlier this year laid most of the blame on Olmert for poorly planning, executing, and reviewing war strategies in the 2006 conflict against Hezbollah.
During December 2008 through January 2009, Barak led (as defense minister) Operation Cast Lead.
Labor won only 13 out of the 120 Knesset seats in the 2009 elections, making them the fourth largest party. Barak and other Labor officials initially stated they would not take part in the next government. However, over the objections of some in the Labor party, Barak later reached an agreement under which Labor joined the governing coalition. Barak retained his position as Defense Minister.
The film Munich includes a scene reflecting the real Barak's experience leading his Sayeret Matkal unit in the commando raid Operation Spring of Youth; he is mentioned by name, and appears disguised as a woman in high heels while firing on presumed PLO personnel.