Backgrounder:

Profile of Ehud Barak

On May 17th of this year, One Israel's 57 year-old Ehud "Brug" Barak became the tenth prime minister of Israel after soundly defeating Likud incumbent prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Following is a brief review of his life and military career.

"Lightning," the literal translation of the Hebrew word 'barak', is considered by many an apt description of the man chosen to lead Israel into the 21st century. Barak is the most decorated soldier in Israel's modern history, receiving the Distinguished Service Medal along with four other citations for courage and operational excellence.

A scholarly soldier, he is fluent in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic and English), is an accomplished classical pianist and holds a Master's of Science degree in Economic Engineering Systems from Stanford University.

He is married, has three daughters and lives in Kochav Yair, an upscale community along the Green Line of pre-'67 Israel.

Barak was born in 1942 on Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon, a communal farm near the Mediterranean coastal resort town of Netanya. His parents came in the 1930s from eastern Europe to Israel, where they helped found Kibbutz Hasharon. The oldest of four boys, Barak was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces in 1959 at the age of 17, beginning what was to become a meteoric rise through the military ranks.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, Barak commanded a reconnaissance group. From 1969 to 1972, he commanded Israel's most elite and clandestine commando unit, Sayaret Matkal. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he served as a tank battalion commander on the southern front in Sinai.

The short, compact soldier also commanded several Mossad (Israel's foreign intelligence service) operations throughout his military career. In 1972, when four Palestinian terrorists hijacked a Sabena (Belgian) aircraft at Tel Aviv airport, Barak led the team responsible for rescuing the hostages held aboard the aircraft. He and other commandos -- including one Binyamin Netanyahu -- disguised themselves as mechanics and rushed the aircraft, killing two terrorists. They successfully rescued all hostages, though one later died from wounds.

In another operation, Barak's commando team slipped into Beirut by rubber dinghy in a reprisal raid against the Palestinian masterminds of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. Barak (disguised as a woman) and his team executed three of the Palestinians involved in the Munich murders.

In January 1982, Barak was appointed Head of the IDF Planning Branch and promoted to Major General. He commanded the Lebanon Valley force during that year's "Peace for Galilee" operation, in which Israel invaded southern Lebanon to eradicate PLO terrorists attacking the northern Galilee.

In April of 1983, Major General Barak was appointed head of Aman, the Israeli army's intelligence branch.

In January 1986, he was appointed commander of IDF Central Command. May 1987 saw him appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff, a position he occupied until 1991. While serving in this capacity, Barak returned to intelligence operations, coordinating the Mossad foray against PLO headquarters in Tunis. Sitting in a flotilla off the Algerian coast, Barak oversaw a daring Israeli commando raid against PLO headquarters that successfully targeted arch-terrorist Abu Jihad in his bed.

In April 1991, he assumed the post of 14th Chief of Staff of the IDF and was promoted to Lieutenant General, the highest rank in the Israeli Military. Following the signing of the 1994 Gaza-Jericho agreement with the Palestinians, Lt. General Barak oversaw the IDF's redeployment in areas affected by the agreement. He also played a key role in finalizing the peace treaty with Jordan, signed the same year.

When Barak was dispatched to Washington as chief of General Staff in 1994 to hold talks over the Golan with his Syrian counterpart, Gen.Hikmat Shihabi, the Syrians found him "too inflexible."

In 1995, having climbed the military ladder to its pinnacle, Barak turned his sights to the political arena, ending 35 years of military service. After retiring from the IDF, he spent the required six-month "cooling-off" period in Washington, being tutored in some of the finer points of public service and international relations.

He was immediately brought into the Government by his friend and mentor, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, taking an appointment as Minister of Interior. Barak and Rabin were seen as soldiers in the same mould -- daring men of action, ruthless against the PLO enemy, and therefore to be trusted with Israel's future in the peace process.

In 1995, after he joined the Rabin government, Barak was the only member of the inner circle dealing with peace negotiations who opposed the interim pullbacks put forward in the Oslo II agreement, preferring that everything be left for the final accord.

After Rabin's assassination in November, interim Prime Minister Shimon Peres gave Barak the Foreign Ministry slot, where he served for the next seven months.

Soon after entering government service, allegations surfaced threatening to destroy Barak's nascent political career. Yediot Ahronot, a leading Israeli newspaper, published eyewitness accounts purporting Barak may have abandoned wounded soldiers injured in a November 1992 accident at the IDF's Tze'elim training base in the Negev. The charges lingered until an extensive, official investigation exonerated him of all wrongdoing earlier this year.

During the 1996 elections, in which Netanyahu defeated Peres for prime minister, Barak was elected to the Knesset on the Labor party list. The former lieutenant-general and Chief of Staff challenged Peres for party leadership the following year and won.

He started revamping the party in the mould of Britain's Labour Party, upsetting long-time party employees in the process. He also reached out to Israeli Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin, asking forgiveness for the Labour party's discrimination against the Sephardim in the past.

Barak then faced off against Netanyahu in the May 17th elections for prime minister, highlighting his colorful military background and winning by a stunning 56% to 44% margin.

SOURCES: Yediot Ahronot, Ha'Aretz; BBC; CNN; Inside the PLO, by Livingstone and Halevy; Middle East Dispatch; ISRAELINE.


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