Barak: ‘Childish’ Netanyahu opposed Shalit deal, took full credit

In latest leaked recording, former defense chief says PM tried to keep him out of first photos of soldier’s return

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (second right), walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second left), then-defense minister Ehud Barak (left), and ex-chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz (right), at the Tel Nof air base in southern Israel, October 18, 2011. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)
Released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (second right), walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second left), then-defense minister Ehud Barak (left), and ex-chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz (right), at the Tel Nof air base in southern Israel, October 18, 2011. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)

In new recordings released Monday by Channel 2, former defense minister Ehud Barak accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being “childish to an embarrassing degree” in his conduct surrounding the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner release — a deal Barak said Netanyahu initially opposed, and later took full credit for.

Barak said he pushed the hesitant prime minister to go ahead with the controversial prisoner release, and then to enact legislation that would limit future swaps. Netanyahu was later more concerned about the publicity opportunities the newly released Shalit presented than “the deed,” he charged.

The Prime Minister’s Office rejected Barak’s comments as “irresponsible.”

In the recordings, Barak maintained that when Shalit was freed, Netanyahu “displayed something childish to a truly embarrassing degree” in dominating the ceremony marking the return of the captive soldier.

“It took place inside an Air Force base, which in the end I’m responsible for in the government. Ordinarily, the ceremony would be organized by a technical person from the [Israel Defense Forces] General Staff. Here, there were these teams from the Prime Minister’s Office to organize this, and everything was focused on one thing — that the very first picture of this kid coming down [off the plane] would be with only Bibi in the frame,” Barak said.

The former defense minister said that if he had listened to the organizers, he would have been held back from approaching Shalit alongside Netanyahu. In photos of Shalit’s release, Barak is seen standing next to Netanyahu, Shalit, and then IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz.

“This intensity is an extreme in his personality, it’s a weakness that can go to these childish places in chasing after momentary things,” said Barak. “Bibi has a very strong sense that the picture, the word, is more important than the deed.”

Barak maintained that Netanyahu was initially reluctant to advance the lopsided prisoner swap, in which Israel freed 1,027 Palestinian inmates in exchange for the IDF soldier abducted in June 2006.

“As much as he was opposed to [the] Gilad Shalit [prisoner exchange], I pressured him for months to do two things — to do Gilad Shalit and immediately afterward to pass in the cabinet [and in] the Knesset [the recommendations of] the Shamgar Committee [on the inadvisability of prisoner exchanges].

“In the end, he was convinced he had to free Shalit, but wasn’t convinced about doing the obvious next step [of passing Shamgar], and that’s how he found himself in the [summer 2014] kidnapping of the three kids,” Barak added, referring to the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank that sparked last summer’s war in Gaza.

“Bibi is forced into action, and shows a side [of his personality] that is less elegant, less about self-control, less pretty, when he’s in a personal crisis over something,” Barak said.

The negative personality assessment echoed tapes released Sunday, in which Barak is heard characterizing Netanyahu as “weak.” Other bombshell recordings aired over the weekend indicated Netanyahu had planned to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, but was blocked by his fellow ministers and officials.

The Prime Minister’s Office on Monday urged an end to the “irresponsible talk on matters of national security.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to work responsibly and forcefully for the sake of the security of Israel and its citizens, does not bury his head in the sand, points to dangers and threats as they are, and works determinedly and decisively — just as he did a few days ago in Syria, and as he’s done in dozens of decisions and operations, of which some are hidden from the public eye, as it should be,” the PMO added in a statement.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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