JERUSALEM (JTA) — Ehud Barak stepped down as Israeli defense minister at an official farewell event.
Barak, 71, who served as defense minister for six years, announced in November that he would leave political life. He told CNN recently that he would stay away from politics for at least five years.
Only David Ben-Gurion, who was defense minister for eight years, and Moshe Dayan, who held the office for seven years, served in the position longer than Barak.
"Ehud, I have no idea what you’re planning to do next, but the State of Israel can’t do without you," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the Wednesday night event, which had been postponed from Tuesday following the crash of a Cobra helicopter during a training exercise that left two soldiers dead.
"This coming year will be crucial for Israel’s defense and security," Netanyahu said. "In the coming years, we’ll have to deal with the growing amounts of lethal weapons that are being accumulated in our region, from the nuclear threat to sophisticated missiles that threaten the entire State of Israel." He added, "I don’t underestimate the threats, nor do I underestimate our ability to meet them."
Barak responded: “The steering wheel is being held by strong, trustworthy and confident hands."
Barak served as prime minister in 1999, succeeding Benjamin Netanyahu, and simultaneously as defense minister. He left politics in 2001 after losing to Ariel Sharon, but returned in 2007 to serve as chairman of the Labor Party and defense minister for Ehud Olmert. Barak stayed on when Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009.
Barak left the Labor Party in January 2011 and formed the left-wing Independence Party to shore up Netanyahu’s majority coalition government when Labor, minus Barak’s faction, quit the coalition. The Independence Party did not garner enough votes in January’s election to receive seats in the new Knesset.