JERUSALEM -- Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he is leaving politics after more than half a century and will not run in the upcoming elections.
Barak made the surprise announcement Monday, less than a week after Israel's military ended its Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, for which he has received accolades for his successful leadership.
He said he would leave the government after the January elections. Barak, of the Independence Party, has been courted recently by left-wing and center-left parties to join with them for the elections. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly demanded that Barak resign from the government if he decided to join another party.
Barak said he planned to spend more time with his family.
"I have never felt that politics was the height of my ambition," he said at the Monday morning news conference. “I feel there is room now for other people to take up positions in Israel. There are many ways to contribute, but the state is not just politics.”
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, and 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, left the coalition. The Independence Party likely would not garner enough votes in the upcoming elections to break the 2 percent threshold to win seats in the Knesset, according to recent polls.
Former Kadima Party head Tzipi Livni is slated to announce this week her plans for the coming political season, as is former prime minister and Kadima chief Ehud Olmert.