Former prime minister Ehud Barak tore into Benjamin Netanyahu and his current Israeli government in a cutting op-ed in The Washington Post on Thursday, accusing the prime minster of “reckless conduct” that has damaged Israel’s strategic position and threatens its very existence.
Writing a day after US and Israeli officials signed a massive new military aid deal for Israel — Washington’s largest defense package to any country in history — Barak, who also served as Netanyahu’s defense minister from 2009 to 2013, accused the premier of bungling the negotiations and reaching a package significantly smaller than was originally expected.
“The damage produced by Netanyahu’s irresponsible management of the relations with the White House is now fully manifest,” Barak wrote. “Israel will receive $3.8 billion a year — an important contribution to our security but far less than what could have been obtained before the prime minister chose to blatantly interfere with US politics.”
The op-ed drew a furious response from Netanyahu’s Likud party, which accused the former prime minister of not having Israel’s interests at heart.
Barak has in the past criticized Netanyahu for appearing before the US Congress in March 2015 to lobby against the Iran nuclear deal that Obama was pushing for, a move that the White House viewed as unprecedented interference by a foreign leader.
The new military package will grant Israel $3.8 billion annually — up from the $3 billion pledged under the previous agreed-upon Memorandum of Understanding — starting in 2018 and through 2028. But under the terms of the deal, Israel pledged not to seek additional funding from Congress for the next decade. The agreement also includes a provision curtailing Israel’s ability to spend the funds on its own arms industry over the next six years — a key area of dispute during talks.
According to earlier reports, Israel had asked for a separate $400 million deal for missile defense spending — which could have raised the total amount to more than $4 billion annually. The final figure, however, was set without that provision.
Barak said that with a 20 percent cumulative rise in the cost of arms since the last 10-year agreement came into effect and a clause barring Israel from seeking further funds from the US Congress, the deal gives Israel “no greater purchasing power” than it had under the last accord.
Likud, in a statement, dismissed the column as “nonsense” by the “most failed prime minister in Israel’s history” who is attempting a “pathetic [political] comeback.”
“The publication of an article that bashes Israel in the US media on the day the largest aid deal in the history of the US was signed is just further proof that Ehud Barak does not have Israel’s best interests at heart,” the party said.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on Barak’s criticism but sources close to the prime minister were quoted by Israel Radio rejecting the comments as those of someone “who has been unfamiliar with the details for a number of years now.”
“On a day like this Barak should be eating his hat rather than telling the world that the prime minister has failed,” the sources reportedly said.
In a Wednesday statement before the signing ceremony, Netanyahu recognized the diplomatic disputes engaged in by Washington and Jerusalem over the last several years, but said they “had no effect whatsoever on the great friendship between Israel and the US.”
“This agreement demonstrates the simple truth that the relationship between Israel and the US is strong and powerful,” Netanyahu said. “This agreement will ensure an unprecedented level of defense aid for Israel in the next decade… This is the largest military aid package the US has ever given out to any nation.”
The op-ed comes amid swirling rumors that the former prime minister is mulling a return to politics.
Barak was prime minister from 1999 until 2001. He was the leader of the Labor Party until 2011, when he splintered from it to form the Independence Party. In 2012 he chose to retire from politics rather than run, and almost certainly lose, in the 2013 general election.
Barak’s criticism echoed sentiments he expressed in a speech last month when he accused Netanyahu of “butting into” US politics. In that speech, given at the conference for the left-wing Darkenu organization, Barak also previewed his damning assessment of Netanyahu’s progress, of lack thereof, toward a two-state solution, which features heavily in Thursday’s op-ed.
He wrote that Netanyahu is “sorely lacking” the vision needed to tackle Israel’s toughest challenges, saying that the current government, under Netanyahu’s leadership, is leading Israel to “doom.”
Accusing the current government policy of leading Israel and the Palestinians toward a binational state, Barak asserted that such an entity “within a generation, may have a Jewish minority and likely a Bosnia-like civil war, or else an apartheid reality if Palestinian residents are deprived of the right to vote.”
“Both spell doom for the Zionist dream,” he added.
In a concluding hint at a possible return to politics, Barak said that, “if the government doesn’t steer away from its dangerous path, it will have to be replaced by a more responsible, attentive and courageous one — headed by whomever the people choose.”
Billboards were recently put up overnight in the Tel Aviv area calling for Barak to run for office.
“Barak, you have to run,” the posters said. “Netanyahu is destroying the country.”
אהוד ברק מריץ את עצמו ?! Lol pic.twitter.com/OnOYYcvlmG
— yay (@uz777) September 6, 2016
Asked by The Times of Israel in June after he delivered an address at the Herzliya Conference if he was mulling a return to politics, Barak responded: “Let’s just leave it at what I said in there for now.”
At the conference, Barak said that if the government did not embark on a different policy, “it will be incumbent upon all of us — yes, all of us — to get up from our seats, comfortable ones and uncomfortable ones, and bring it down via popular protest and via the ballot box before it’s too late.”