Members of Israel’s defense and political leadership gathered on Wednesday evening at the Bar-Ilan University, where a farewell tribute was held in honor of the outgoing defense minister, Ehud Barak.
Barak held the position of Defense Minister held for six years, during the governments of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the outgoing government led by Binyamin Netanyahu.
Barak announced his retirement from politics before the last election, and the members of his Atzmaut (Independence) party, which he formed when he split from the Labor party, decided they will not be running either.
“I conclude with great satisfaction in what we did, in what I got to be a part of, and knowing there is much more to do and with the recognition that the steering wheel is being held by strong, trustworthy and confident hands,” Barak said during the event.
“The Middle East will continue to be a difficult environment, Syria will continue to fall apart, Hizbullah will continue to gain strength, Hamas will continue to conspire, nothing will be simple with the Palestinians, and Iran will be in the background. That’s our situation, it will never be boring. I do not know who will replace me, though I have an idea, and I think it will be good hands and I'm sure whoever comes instead of me will be able to carry the burden.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu, who attended the farewell event for Barak, said, “This will be a decisive year for the security of Israel and its citizens. Weapons which threaten us are piling around us, from a nuclear threat through sophisticated missiles that threaten the entire of the State of Israel.”
"Just as I do not underestimate the danger, I also do not underestimate our ability to deal with it,” Netanyahu said.
Of Barak himself, the Prime Minister said, "I met Ehud in a small group of fighters and saw a determined, smart person who identifies the main target point and strives to reach it.”
Netanyahu outlined a series of military operations in which he collaborated with Barak, when the two served in the military together. The Prime Minister said that he discovered the outgoing minister’s unique skills during the nights and days they spent together as IDF fighters.
"I did not know Ehud as a colleague and partner because we were political opponents,” Netanyahu said, referring to the 1999 Knesset election when Barak ran against him for Prime Minister and won. “Over the past four years, I discovered a man who is deeply committed to the future of Israel and thinks about how to ensure its security. I discovered in him unique skills that are required these days.”
Turning to Barak, Netanyahu concluded by saying, “The State of Israel cannot give up on people like you.”
Rumors after January’s election indicated that Netanyahu was considering asking Barak to remain in office for a few more months so that a number of defense-related issues that are already in progress may be completed.
Barak later dismissed the reports, telling CNN that he would not be returning to the post of Defense Minister.
“I have already told the public and the prime minister -- many people do not believe, but I don't see a reason for this -- that I'm not going to join,” Barak said. “I'm going to leave political life for at least the next five years."