Gideon Israel
Director of the Jerusalem Washington Center

Ehud Barak and preventive medicine

Ehud Barak has left political life for a second time.  Whether this is indeed a final decision or merely a ploy to retain an important to role in Israeli politics – only time will tell.  After his resignation, many praises were heaped on Barak for his contribution to Israeli security while in the government and as a soldier and commander in the IDF. As a soldier he is remembered as being extremely bright and courageous, and having a unique outlook on the issue at hand. However, regarding his contributions in the government, usually clothed with the words “more than the public will ever know,” reminds me of a parable that I heard from a well known wise man.

There were two doctors who lived in two adjacent villages.  In the first village, there lived a doctor who was not only well known in his village, but also in the surrounding villages and even statewide. People spoke of his ability to cure all kinds of diseases, diagnosing each patient appropriately and knowing the proper medicine to prescribe. The doctor who lived in the second village was not famous, however, there weren’t many sick people in his village.

A man passing between the villages thought this was odd.  On the one hand, the famous doctor was an expert doctor.  But it puzzled him how in two adjacent villages, one had many sick people and in other sickness was virtually nonexistent. He realized that there must be more to than second doctor than meets the eye. He went to the second doctor and asked him why there are no sick people in his village. The doctor didn’t know. The curious man then asked, “How do you treat your patients that come to you for regular checkups?” The doctor answered, “First I check them to make sure everything is OK. I also tell them the importance of washing their hands before eating or after going to the bathroom. I encourage them to exercise, eat properly and get the right amount of sleep each night.” The curious man had his answer.

Ehud Barak, the politician, was Prime Minister and Defense Minister in turbulent times.  He succeeded in some situations and failed in others.  Yet, an often overlooked element of his ‘success’ is that he created most of the problems he had to solve. It was Barak who ordered the army to leave Lebanon in a panic-filled, haphazard, one-night operation. This cowardly retreat imbued the Palestinians with the chutzpah to realize that violence does pay and they can reach their national goals through blood and war. 

After the second wave of Palestinian violence (a.k.a Intifada) began in 2000, it was Barak’s weak hand and utter confusion in the crucial first months that gave the Palestinians the confidence to continue to terrorize Israelis for years to come.  Barak wasn’t around to deal with the Second Lebanon War, the fruits of his decision-making. However, after the public felt that Amir Peretz failed, Barak was reactivated from the trash heap of Israeli politicians to try and clean up the mess he started.  Two years later, it was Barak who was in charge of Operation Cast Lead, which ultimately paved the way for Operation Pillar Defense, which will probably lead the way to Operation ‘Leave No Stone Unturned’ in another year or two. 

These are a few examples of key issues where Barak essentially created the problem. He didn’t tell his patients wash your hands, exercise, eat well. Barak might have earned praise as defense minister, but it was due to the problems that he created that there were so many issues to solve. He was like the doctor in the first city – famous, world-renowned, able to cure the patients – but ultimately a failure, because all of these problems could have been prevented. This can be compared to hearing cautious politicians articulating the need to take international pressure into consideration in connection with a Gaza operation. Well of course, after our enemies had been bombing the south for twelve years with no response, the international community wanted to understand why Israel got so excited about a few more missiles or an anti-tank missile hitting a jeep. Maybe someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and the international community, acting responsibly, just wanted to calm them down.

Barak, a great soldier, definitely a security expert, was like the first doctor – famous, but with many sick people. 

About the Author
Gideon Israel is the Director of the Jerusalem Washington Center which focuses on strengthening US-Israel relations through mutually beneficial policy projects.