Having run a carefully thought-out and meticulously executed campaign for the first round of Labor's primaries, which he won against most expectations, Ehud Barak has managed to make almost every possible mistake in the first week of the run-up to the second round against Ami Ayalon.
It began on the first night, as Barak's results were coming in, putting him in first place but without enough votes to win in the first round. He didn't move fast enough to maintain discipline within his ranks. Barak's camp has too many chiefs who are quick to pounce on any waiting microphone - party secretary-general Eitan Cabel, for example, who predicted a deal with outgoing chairman Amir Peretz which could have put the race in the bag.
Such a deal might have made sense, but it was a bit too early to talk about it when the tensions of the first round were still high. It made it all seem too cynical, even for Labor. Barak felt he was being pushed into a corner.
Then a new poll landed on his desk, suggesting that joining forces with Peretz would actually chase away some of his voters. He panicked and a counter-spin went out with the message that he didn't need Peretz and that Peretz would only harm him.
The result: Barak was both portrayed in the media as a cynical operator - an image he had desperately tried to avoid for the entire campaign - and simultaneously managed to infuriate Peretz and his cohorts, pushing them firmly into the waiting arms of Ayalon.
The next mistake was also a result of the lack of discipline in Barak's camp. This time the blabbermouth was Infrastructures Minister Binyamin "Fuad" Ben-Eliezer, who embarked on a series of interviews bragging about the way he had brought Barak thousands of votes in the Arab and Druse sectors. Fuad, of course, was only telling the truth - his tribal contacts are indeed legendary - but it was casting the campaign in an even more dismal light. What Ben-Eliezer was saying amounted to the admission that Barak's first-round victory had little to do with his suitability as party chairman and defense minister and everything to do with the pork-barreling capabilities of his principal backer.
Not only that, but Fuad also created a major challenge for Ghaleb Majadle to prove he's top dog in his home territory. Majadle, who is now being frantically courted by Barak, is going to do everything in his power to deliver Ayalon a hefty majority among the Israeli Arabs. It's not about who finally emerges as the new Labor leader, it's about teaching Fuad a lesson.
Barak has to decide now whether to continue his "silent policy" of not talking to the media during his primary campaign, speaking only with party members in closed meetings, or whether to make a grand appearance at the last moment in an effort to reach as many of the 103,000 members as possible. On Thursday he made a first break from the policy of silence when he met with political reporters, reading a terse written statement saying that he will not be making any deals with the candidates who have dropped out after the first round. But that was too little, too late to have any effect. His advisers are urging him to make some public speeches, but he is aware that any statement will be used against him.
Another initiative that backfired was the announcement by his people on Saturday night that they would be attacking the Ayalon-Peretz deal, telling the Labor members that "a vote for Ami is a vote for Peretz," but this was swiftly retracted the next morning when they realized that Barak was opening himself up to accusations of running a "negative campaign."
Six days ago, Barak seemed on a winning streak, all set to consolidate his first round victory into a second round rout. Now all deals are off the table and his only option is an all-out frontal attack. His open policy will be to appeal to the party grassroots, asking them to disregard the deals and vote according to their conscience. Behind the scenes, he and his supporters will be trying to whittle away at Peretz's power base, wooing senior members of his camp such as Education Yuli Tamir and MK Shelly Yacimovich. He will try and hide party captains such as Ben-Eliezer and Cabel, portraying himself as the anti-establishment candidate, looking out for the individual independent member.
If Barak loses next Tuesday, his dreams of returning to power will be doomed. He isn't a Knesset member and there will be no space for him around the cabinet table. The ministers who supported him will scramble to save their political hides and make their peace with Ayalon. A few might look to him to lead a rebel faction within Labor, but Barak is not cut out for that role. Bereft of any position of influence, there will be little to tempt him from returning to making millions in the private sector.
Barak has no choice now but to go for broke.