JERUSALEM (AP) _ Until nearly the end of her husband's race for prime minister, many Israelis didn't even know what Nava Barak looked like.

Unlike in the United States, where the wives of candidates often take on separate, high-profile campaign roles, the auburn-haired Mrs. Barak initially stayed off the campaign trail. Later, she appeared mainly at her husband's side, holding his hand during TV talk-show appearances and looking on as he addressed campaign rallies.

But the 52-year-old Mrs. Barak's unassuming style belies an independent streak and a quiet strength. As her husband rose through the ranks of Israel's military establishment _ a career that culminated in his appointment to the top job, army chief of staff _ she worked as a schoolteacher and raised their three daughters, now aged 18, 24 and 28.

During her husband's days as an elite commando and later a general, Nava Barak _ whose first name means ``beautiful'' in Hebrew _ dealt with the nerve-racking knowledge that he was away on dangerous clandestine missions or in front-line combat.

In campaign appearances with her husband _ urged by Barak's American political advisers as the race entered its final crucial weeks _ she appeared poised, articulate and natural.

The Baraks have been married for three decades and associates describe the marriage as a close one. Although she is careful to avoid any policy statements in public, he is said to rely on her counsel.

Mrs. Barak, whose family is from the biblical northern town of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, is of Sephardic, or Middle Eastern descent. Barak is of Ashkenazi, or European descent, and is fond of pointing to their marriage as proof that Israel need not be riven by tensions between the two groups.

The solid partnership of the Baraks is a sharp contrast to the sometimes tempestuous relationship of Benjamin and Sarah Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has publicly acknowledged infidelity to Sarah, his third wife. She was also pilloried in the Israeli press for highhandedness toward her husband's political associates and for reported displays of temper, such as throwing shoes and firing a nanny for burning the soup.