by JEFFREY HELLER (Reuters)
Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday he was quitting politics, a surprise decision that deepens uncertainty over how Israel will confront Iran's nuclear program.
Barak's political fortunes appeared to be on the rise after Israel's eight-day Gaza offensive ended in a truce, but polls predicted his centrist party, a junior partner in right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu's government, would win no more than four seats in Israel's 120-member parliament in a January 22 election.
A former head of the center-left Labour Party, Barak has insisted he and Netanyahu have been united on policy toward Iran, an issue that has often put the prime minister at odds with U.S. President Barack Obama.
But as the only centrist member of the governing coalition of right-wing and pro-settler parties, Barak has frequently visited Washington for talks with top U.S. officials and had criticized Netanyahu for airing differences with the United States.
At a hastily-called news conference, he said he would not be a candidate in the national ballot that Netanyahu's Likud party is forecast to win. [MORE]