JERUSALEM— Israeli defense minister and longtime national leader Ehud Barak told reporters Monday that he is retiring from politics because he is exhausted with political life and wants to spend more time with his family.
Barak, 70, who is also a former prime minister, also said he wanted to make room for others to serve in leadership positions.
Barak said he would complete his term as defense minister but would not run in the upcoming elections and would step down after the formation of the new government in three months.
Former prime minister
Barak was elected prime minister in 1999 at the head of Israel's Labor Party. But two years later he lost to current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is finishing up a second term.
Barak founded the tiny center-left Independence party after splitting with Labor last year. It has three seats in parliament.
Netanyahu's center-right Likud Party and its alliance of rightist and orthodox Jewish parties are expected to win national elections scheduled for January 22.
Netanyahu said in a statement that he respected Barak's decision and thanked him for his contribution to the security of the state over many years.
Political support for Barak had declined in recent years but it surged after Israel's air offensive against Gaza, which ended last week with relatively light casualties.
An Arab member of parliament, Ahmad Tibi, told Israeli radio that it seemed the defense minister's achievement in Gaza was not enough to bring him success in the coming election.
Iran issue remains
Barak had strongly supported Netanyahu on the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He said it remains a major concern.
"It will remain a central issue on the agenda," he said.
Barak evaded questions about whether he might serve as a Cabinet minister in the next government.
Most Israeli Cabinet ministers hold parliamentary seats but a few have been appointed as professional ministers without winning a seat.