Reprinted from Gush Shalom
Yuval Steinitz, the present minister for I-don't-know-what, was also not at the top of the list of politicians I admire. He, too, seemed to me one of the servants of Netanyahu, without a recognizable personality of his own.
Even the former army Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, was not one of my ultimate heroes. When he was appointed, some malicious people claimed that he owed his advancement to his Oriental origin, since the Minister of Defense, at the time, was also of Oriental origin. Ashkenazi's father was from Bulgaria, his mother from Syria. The Minister of Defense at the time, Shaul Mofaz, was from Iran. Ashkenazi was in charge of one of the serial wars against Gaza. He was and remains popular.
Now I admire all three. More than that, I am deeply grateful to all three.
WHAT HAS brought about such a profound change?
It was caused by another former army Chief of Staff, Ehud Barak.
(If this gives the impression that Israel abounds with former Chiefs of Staff, that is an exaggeration. But we are indeed amply supplied with them.)
Barak has been a Chief of Staff, a Defense Minister and a Prime Minister. Since he was replaced by Binyamin Netanyahu, he is in private business -- giving advice to foreign governments. He has become very rich, and doesn't hide it. Far from it.
He grew up in a kibbutz. Since he was a fattish boy without athletic ability, who played the piano, his life there was not easy. When he was called up like everybody else, he seemed far from a military career.
But a senior commando officer noticed his intelligence and decided to push him on. He accepted him into his select unit -- the renowned Sayeret Matkal ("General Staff commando"), where he advanced quickly both for his physical bravery and his outstanding intelligence.
Early on, a high-ranking officer drew my attention to him. "Watch Barak," he advised, "he is extremely intelligent and one of these days he is going to be Chief of Staff!"
Years later, I got a surprise phone call. I was at the time the editor of a popular news magazine and a Member of the Knesset, profoundly disliked by the establishment. I was told on the phone that General Barak, the Deputy Chief of Staff, was inviting me for a talk in his office.
I wondered what the reason might be, but there was no reason. The general just wanted to have a conversation with me.
So we talked for about an hour and hit a subject of joint interest: military history. Since World War II, that has been my hobby. (Some people joked that I was the only militaristic pacifist they knew.) We talked about the Thirty Years War and other campaigns, and I was impressed. He knew his stuff and was obviously an intellectual person -- qualities that are quite rare in our officers' corps, which tends to be rather pragmatic.
After that I hardly met him. He disappointed me as a Prime Minister, messed up the Camp David conference and was beaten at the following election by Netanyahu. He became Minister of Defense in the coalition government.
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