In shocker, Israel's Barak quits politics

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JERUSALEM — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak today abruptly announced he was quitting politics, injecting new turmoil into the Israeli political system weeks ahead of general elections.

Barak, Israel’s most-decorated soldier and one-time prime minister, said he would stay on in his current post until a new government is formed following the Jan. 22 balloting.

His resignation could mean the departure of the most moderating influence on hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who holds a wide lead in polls and is expected to easily win re-election. Barak, who heads a small centrist faction in parliament, often served as Netanyahu’s unofficial envoy to Washington to smooth over differences with the Obama White House.

His impending departure comes at a key time for Israel, as the nation struggles to find its way in a region where the old order of Arab autocrats has been swept aside by the Arab Spring and the rise of Islamist political parties.

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