The Israeli Knesset has formally approved Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s nomination of Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin and former Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Ehud Barak to assume positions in his Cabinet.
Beilin is the new minister of economic affairs and planning. Barak will head the Interior Ministry.
The Knesset vote was 53 to 35, with three abstentions.
Knesset member Eli Dayan is expected to replace Beilin as deputy foreign minister.
Shimon Shetreet, who relinquished the Economics Ministry, will remain minister of religious affairs.
Barak, who stepped down as the IDF’s top officer at the start of the year, officially joined the Labor Party on Sunday, prior to the Labor Party Central Committee’s endorsement of his nomination.
He replaces David Libai, who will continue in his role as justice minister.
The move marked what Barak described as “the first step in my civil and political life.”
Barak, 53, said he felt fully “at home” in the Labor Party and intended to make a major contribution to the party’s election campaign next year.
Many observers see Barak as Rabin’s chosen successor to head the Labor Party.
They say Barak’s appointment to a senior ministry is Rabin’s way of presenting him with an opportunity to prove himself in civilian life.
Regarding Beilin, Rabin told Labor central committee members that he head his differences with the young deputy minister in the past, “but his time has now come to be a minister.”
Beilin, 47, is a longtime close disciple of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and an architect of the Israeli-Palestinian self-rule accord.
The central committee’s show of support for Barak was significant because it came in the midst of a political firestorm caused by a report earlier this month in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, which had accused him of abandoning wounded soldiers during a 1992 military training accident.
Barak was among three top-level IDF’s Tze’elim training and practice area in the Negev on Nov. 5, 1992, when a military exercise went awry, killing five Israeli soldiers and wounding six others.
During the practice operation, a live missile was fired accidentally, causing the fatalities. The accident was subsequently known throughout Israel as Tze’elim-2, because two years earlier another fatal training accident had occurred at the same location.
According to a report in the London Sunday Times, published in January 1994, the exercise was a rehearsal for an operation aimed at assassinating Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
In October 1994, an Israeli military court found two mid-level army officers guilty of negligence in the training accident.
The court absolved of responsibility Barak and the other two top officers – – the recently retired IDF chief of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Uri Saguy, and Maj. Gen. Avraham Levine, who was in charge of the training exercise.
Levine was named the IDF commander in charge of the northern sector, which includes operations in Lebanon, in November.
In its July 7 story, Yediot probed the events that led to the accident, the reaction of the military’s top echelon to it at the time and the accident’s aftermath.
The article, which painted a grim picture of the IDF’s top command, alleged misconduct on the part of some of the top commanders present at the incident.
According to the article, Barak was among those who stood by in stunned paralysis while other generals did their best to assist the wounded.
The report also alleged that Barak left the area in his helicopter without taking any of the wounded soldiers with him.
The article, casting doubts about the army investigation that followed the training accident, alleged that certain generals kept changing their statements and that a cover-up was planned by at least one of the commanders involved.
According to the paper, threats and pressure were employed by top army brass to hide or change facts and evidence was tampered with. The report also alleged that the officers who stood trial refrained from divulging the whole truth about the incident.
Last week, Barak vehemently denied the Yediot account.
“It is untruthful, distorted, mistaken and very harmful for me and all of the army,” Barak told reporters.