Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak takes over as defense minister

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak took over as defense minister on Tuesday, an appointment that restored the job to a man with solid defense credentials at a time of heightened security concerns on Israel's southern and northern borders.

Barak, a former military chief who is Israel's most decorated soldier, enters the job facing a new Islamic militant regime to Israel's south in Gaza and to the north, a Lebanese guerrilla group with whom Israel warred last summer.

He takes over from Amir Peretz, a former union chief with little military experience whose handling of the flawed Lebanon war has been widely criticized.

Barak was elected last week to head the Labor Party, consolidating his political comeback after a humiliating election defeat in 2001 ended his brief tenure as prime minister. Barak has made no secret that he sought the defense post as a stepping stone to recapturing the premiership.