January 7, 2006
The Lion

By David Warren

From what I understand of his medical condition, the question “What now, after Ariel Sharon?” cannot be avoided. “The lion”, as so many will always think of him -- who estimated him at his true stature -- is still fighting for his life as I write this. He will probably lose, though with Sharon you can never be sure. The doctors reported yesterday his brain scan showed a remarkable recovery, from when they had last checked. I cannot help thinking, the will to survive, the will to fight, the will to prevail against every adversity, is written not into the body but the soul. You can be completely unconscious, asleep, in coma, and it is still swimming towards the light.

In his induced coma, the man on the table at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem still looks like Ariel Sharon. One looks like oneself when one is sleeping, or through all the contortions of disease. But from the moment of death, the resemblance is gone. Anyone who has attended a few deathbed scenes can attest to this. The question has never been whether the soul exists, but rather, what happens to it?

God bless Sharon. The West depends on Israel more than the West will ever acknowledge, and in the last few years (as several times before, on the battlefield), Israel has depended on Sharon. We will never forget, behind the politician, the warrior who led his men across the Suez in 1973, in an incredibly bold encircling movement, to get behind, and begin to cut off, the Egyptian troops landed on the north side. This saved Israel: for the Egyptians were, also quite boldly, organizing to strike deeply, through weak defences behind a broken front line, and with their usual huge advantage in numbers. And whereas, in war, the Arabs can afford to lose again and again, and still keep Israel in peril, Israel cannot afford to lose even once.

Born in British Palestine, of German-Polish, and Russian, Jewish ancestry, Sharon had been a soldier, really, from the age of fourteen. He made his mark very young, during the war for independence, getting seriously wounded in a daring attempt to rescue the besieged in the Jewish Quarter of old Jerusalem.

His military career was filled with controversy from one end to the other. He was usually a step ahead of his orders, and en route the extra mile -- something he had in common with the other great soldiers of history. It was in disobedience of orders that he captured an Egyptian bridgehead on October 16, 1973; in further disobedience that he crossed the Suez Canal the next day; and in further disobedience that he then cut the supply lines of the Egyptian Third Army.

There had been major controversies over the Qibya operation of 1953 (in which a lot of Palestinian civilians died), and in the Mitla “incident” of 1956 (in which a Sinai pass was taken perhaps unnecessarily), and the advantage of these, for Sharon, was that it granted him long breaks from military service, during which he could study. He made good use of his time, and became remarkably learned (for a soldier or a politician) in Middle Eastern history; then in pursuit of a law degree.

In 1982, in Beirut, a decade after his official military retirement, he was again criticized for being a “results oriented” kind of guy. (The words “Sabra” and “Shatila” come to mind.) It is no time to go into all THAT again, but the reader should be assured, as ever, that the criticism requires suppressing the large picture, to accentuate the small; and in this case, holding Sharon responsible for what was done by Phalange allies, on whom he had no choice but to rely. The truth is, Sharon has always been disliked by “liberal” people, whose whole worldview requires looking through the telescope from the wrong end.

Sharon was never a murderer, and to the extent of my knowledge, never made a murderous military decision in cold blood. But characteristically, he would not wait for the enemy -- including partisan civilians -- to do their worst, before doing his. That is why he lived to old age.

His last project, to create “Kadima” -- an Israeli centre party that could pursue a de facto peace by establishing defensible Israeli borders and abandoning settlements outside them -- has required the sort of man described above, to pull it off. Not a Shimon Peres, not an Ehud Olmert, not even a Binyamin Netanyahu, but a lion.

Copyright 2005 Ottawa Citizen

David Warren

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