Saturday, January 07, 2006

Ariel Sharon Will Be Missed At A Crucial Time In The Middle East

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister now in a coma after a massive stroke, has been a larger-than-life figure in the Middle East. Often, he made mistakes, he succumbed frequently to excess. But in the end, he saved Israel from the depredations of the suicide bombers and sought to leave his country with a more rational policy on the settlements in Arab territory.

With only 7,000 settlers in a Gaza with 1.3 million Arab population, the Israeli presence there made no sense, and the Gaza withdrawal in August was a necessary step, even though it has not brought peace. Sharon, an early exponent of settlement, had the wisdom finally to realize that.

But his unilateral withdrawal has not brought peace, because the Palestinian authorities have no control, and more democracy in Gaza apparently means only more power for the violent Hamas organization.

Under those circumstances, Sharon knew Israel had to soldier on, continue the policy of reprisals for violent acts and hope for better times some day in the future.

It is seductive for liberals to urge a more peaceful policy, not only in Israel but in Iraq, as a means of dealing with Islamic fascism, but it won't work, in my view.

Sharon was struggling to form a centrist party to strive for more rational borders when he had his stroke. Now, that prospect may go glimmering, and a period of uncertainty, to say the least, is in prospect in Israeli politics.

But that is not to say that, all things considered, Israel cannot be thankful for Sharon's career. Repeatedly, the Israelis have been blessed by great military leaders who have had the fortitude to keep the state fairly safe from its enemies.

David Ben-Gurion. Yitzhak Rabin. Moshe Dayan. Golda Meir. Ariel Sharon. Without them, there would be no Israeli state today. In the wake of the Holocaust, they showed the determination and military skill that kept the Jewish people alive.

As the former leftwinger, David Grossman, wrote in the L.A. Times Friday, "The (Israeli) people saw Sharon as their unchallenged, natural leader, mature and wise. He became a kind of "democratic monarch." Was it his physical presence, his huge farm in the Negev, his profound, almost erotic connection to the land, his tales of heroism? Something about him said power, confidence and stability..."

As for me, I'll always remember that in the Yom Kippur war of 1973, after a massive reaupply by the U.S. ordered by then-President Richard Nixon, an Israeli task force under the command of Sharon crossed the Suez Canal and seized considerable Egyptian territory. Egypt, then, decided it had had enough. That's my greatest memory of the dynamic general, Ariel Sharon, a man that, on balance, deserves admiration.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home