Barak, Ehud

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Barak, Ehud

Ehud Barak (ā´khōōd bäräk´), 1942–, Israeli military and political leader, prime minister of Israel (1999–2001). The son of East European immigrants in Palestine, he was born Ehud Brog, later adopting the Hebrew name Barak [lightning]. Barak began his military service in 1959, became a major general in 1982, and by 1991 had risen to become the youngest army chief of staff in Israeli history. Known for his bravery, Barak led two successful commando raids, one that stormed a hijacked Belgian airliner (1972), the other that destroyed a terrorist cell in Beirut (1976). As army head, he was instrumental in building a more streamlined and technologically advanced force. He retired in 1994 and that year joined the Labor party.

Barak began his political career (1995) as interior minister in the cabinet of Yitzhak Rabin, his military and political mentor, and was (1995–96) foreign minister under Shimon Peres. He assumed leadership of the Labor party in 1997, decisively defeated the Likud prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1999, and formed a seven-party coalition government; three right-of-center parties pulled out of the government in 2000. Like Rabin, another soldier turned prime minister, Barak advocated a strong, peace-seeking, and inclusive Israel (under his leadership Labor was renamed the One Israel party) and avowed a willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians and to Arab states if necessary for peace and security.

After the breakdown of negotiations with the Palestinians and the resumption of violence (Sept., 2000), as well as the splintering of his coalition, Barak resigned (Dec., 2000) to force an early election for prime minister in an attempt to regain public support, but in Feb., 2001, he was soundly defeated by Likud candidate Ariel Sharon. After his electoral rout, Barak bowed out of politics. In 2007 he made a comeback when he won the leadership of the Labor party and became defense minister under Ehud Olmert, espousing more hard-line approach to Palestinian relations. Barak continued in the post (2009–13) when a coalition led by Netanyahu and Likud took office, and in 2011 he split with more dovish members of the Labor party and formed the Independence party. He did not run in the 2013 elections.

See biography by I. Kfir (1999).

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