In this Monday January 17, 2011 file photo, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak attends a press conference in the Knesset.

Tel Aviv -

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak surprised political observers on Monday by announcing he was ending his political career and would not compete in the country's upcoming general elections.

Barak, who is 70 years old, told a news conference in Tel Aviv that he wanted to spend more time with his family, and was at ease with his decision.

He said he would retain the defence portfolio until a new government is formed after the January 22 parliamentary elections.

Barak's Atzma'ut (Independence) faction had been expected to squeak into parliament in the next election, after his standing rose in the polls following his handling of Israel's eight-day offensive against Gaza militants.

Polls taken prior to the offensive had shown Atzma'ut facing electoral meltdown. - Sapa-dpa