November 23, 2005
Sharon's Historic Gamble
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the blunt, armored instrument
of Israeli politics.
On the battlefield,
Sharon was something like the tanks he led, a visceral juggernaut
of a commander dedicated to offensive action. His courage, audacity
and intuition inspired personal confidence.
Operation Peace in Galilee, the 1982 Israeli attack into Lebanon,
one of Sharon's crack troops told me with pride: "Arik is
the closest thing in the world to (George) Patton. Serve with
him, and you feel it. You'll follow him anywhere."
anywhere" can lead to ambush. During the 1973 October War,
Sharon's tanks barreled into Egyptian infantry positioned along
the east bank of the Suez Canal. Sharon's attack was an audacious
attempt to push Israeli forces into Egypt. The Egyptians, however,
triggered a clever ambush. The Battle of Chinese Farm ended with
abandoned and burning Israeli tanks littering the desert. Yet
Israeli forces ultimately breached the canal, entered Africa and
surrounded an entire Egyptian army.
-- or what passes for peace in a nation perpetually vexed by terror
and hostile neighbors -- Sharon traded tank for bulldozer. Sharon
in bulldozer mode was a political leader committed to building
Israeli settlements, while the other edge of his dozer blade leveled
To the Israeli
left, European leftist "internationalistas" and his
Arab enemies, Sharon is the devil personified, a war criminal,
a mass murderer, a McHitler, et cetera. To his most ardent supporters,
Sharon is the final bulwark, the certain, dedicated defender of
Israel who would ensure secure borders and the defeat of all enemies
foreign and domestic.
Or at least,
Sharon quit his own conservative Likud Party to form a new centrist
coalition. Once again, the prime minister is gambling, this time
on the political field. The historical stakes are huge. Sharon's
ultimate goal is a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace, with the
ancillary benefit of reshaping an Israeli domestic political system
that all too often gives political extremes on the left and right
decisive power to reject sensible compromise.
Of course. Arrogant? Perhaps, but so what? A rash charge into
The old warrior has always been a deft calculator. The risk-laden
charge at Chinese Farm excepted, Sharon's military operations
stressed effective reconnaissance and maneuver. Find the weak
point, strike, break through, flank and surround.
strategic recon: The opportunity for fundamental, positive political
change in the Middle East is without precedent. Yasser Arafat
is dead. Toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq also undermined the myth
of the "Arab strongman" -- a point unfortunately missed
by critics of the Iraq war.
and Saddam gone, Iraq and Palestine have both held democratic
elections. In January 2005, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas ran
on a peace platform. Abbas is now fighting a low-level civil war
with his own rejectionist hardliners in Hamas and Fatah, with
Israel as his ally. The blowback from Syria's assassination of
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the democratic revival
in Lebanon have weakened Damascus' Assad regime.
domestic politics are frozen -- a weak point. To paraphrase The
Jerusalem Post, Sharon knows there must be a political alternative
to "the unconditional negotiations approach of the (Israeli)
left and the not-one-inch approach of the right. "
left Labor Party and right Likud are both coalitions. Though radical
splinter parties may attract a handful of voters, "proportional
voting" (with a 1.5 percent of the vote qualifying threshold)
means the one or two representatives the radical parties place
in the Knesset often determine if legislation is passed or defeated.
The radicals can thus exert control over agendas.
response is to create a "pragmatic center party" where
warriors can make peace. One Internet commentator quickly dubbed
it "The Arik Party."
stratagem work? It appears Sharon has been maneuvering for months,
planning for new elections in spring 2006. The BBC reported initial
polls have Sharon beating Likud frontrunner Benjamin Netanyahu
and Labor's new populist leader, Amir Peretz.
to establish an Israeli "center" have fared poorly,
but they weren't led by a man with Sharon's charisma, stamina
and defense credentials.
2005 Creators Syndicate