Sharon the coward

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During her visit to Jerusalem on Sunday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice applauded Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, saying, "He has displayed courage and vision in putting forth this disengagement plan."


Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.


In a new book, Boomerang, published in Hebrew last week, left-wing commentators Raviv Drucker and Ofer Shelach provide an insider's narrative account of how Sharon came to make the decision to withdraw from Gaza and Northern Samaria. Their findings are devastating.

Based on interviews with senior government and military officials, Drucker and Shelach report that Sharon's decision in December 2003 to abandon his electoral platform, which opposed the unilateral transfer of land to the Palestinians and rejected out of hand the notion of expelling Israelis from their communities in the Gaza Strip or Judea and Samaria, stemmed from considerations that had absolutely nothing to do with Israel's national security interests.


According to the two writers, Sharon's basic impetus for adopting the radical left-wing plan – that had been overwhelmingly rejected by voters in the January 2003 elections – was his desire to avoid indictment for his role in corruption scandals for which he and his sons Gilad and Omri were under police investigation.


They write: "In private conversations [Sharon] said he was convinced that [state attorney Edna] Arbel would try to bring about his indictment and his resignation from the premiership." Sharon's aides, first and foremost among them his personal attorney and chief of staff Dov Weisglass, told Sharon that to avert indictment he had to take a bold initiative "to change the public agenda away from the media's focus on the investigation." And so the disengagement plan was born.


After Arbel was booted up to the Supreme Court, Sharon, still under investigation, made a move to head off an indictment by the new attorney-general, Menachem Mazuz. As the media bleated daily, Mazuz's first order of business upon taking office would be to decide whether or not to indict Sharon and his son Gilad in what had become known as "The Greek Island Affair."


The day after Mazuz came into office, Sharon invited radical left-wing columnist Yoel Marcus from Haaretz for a visit at his residence in Jerusalem. Sharon outlined his plan to withdraw from Gaza to Marcus. As expected, Marcus embraced both Sharon and the plan in Haaretz the next day, and thus the radical Left was brought on board Sharon's bandwagon. Shortly thereafter Mazuz closed the investigation on Sharon and Gilad.

In an interview last Wednesday night on Channel 2, Shelach said, "The people who are closest to Sharon told us absolutely that if it hadn't been for those police investigations, this decision [to withdraw from Gaza and northern Samaria] would not have been made."


Several months ago, a senior government official who was involved in the government discussions about the withdrawal plan told me, "Sharon placed the legal establishment on the horns of a dilemma. They had to decide what moved them more, their love of the law or their hatred of the settlers. It was an easy decision."


SHELACH AND Drucker's book gives the lie to the notion that any security or strategic considerations were taken into account by Sharon and Weisglass in formulating the withdrawal plan. Indeed, as Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yaron, who now serves as Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's senior policy adviser, is quoted as having said, "If the disengagement goes through, it will be proof that there is no need for any decision-making process in the State of Israel."


This is the case because, as the authors demonstrate, the plan, which was Weisglass's brainchild, was made without any staff work, without any discussion with the army, and without any debate by the cabinet. Weisglass presented it to then US national security adviser Rice without any discussion with or forewarning to the IDF or the Shin Bet and against the strenuous objections of both.


To counteract the security establishment's opposition, Sharon effectively fired the IDF chief of general staff, Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, and Shin Bet director Avi Dichter by not extending their tours of duty, as is routinely done for both positions. He simultaneously stacked the General Staff and the Shin Bet with commanders who, like Mofaz, understand that they are personally indebted to the prime minister.


Not surprisingly, the media establishment, which, like the legal establishment, hates the settlers more than it loves the law, has been silent on Drucker's and Shelach's revelations. There have been no follow-ups to Shelach and Drucker's television appearance from last Wednesday in any of the television newscasts or major newspapers.


DRUCKER'S AND Shelach's findings point to two critical and acute problems in Israel. The first is that Sharon, in sharp contrast to the public image that his advisers have carefully crafted for him, is neither a great visionary nor a strong leader. He is an old widower moved by personal ambition and an overarching desire to be perceived as a man he is no longer capable of being. The second problem is that our legal establishment is perceived by our political leadership as so prejudicial that it is capable of inspiring policies that are antithetical to national security.


The fact that, in spite of their clear support for the left-wing platform of an Israeli return to the 1949 armistice lines Drucker and Shelach could not ignore the fact that Sharon's entire policy was based on nothing other than his desire to be admired and to avert criminal indictment, shows clearly how history will look back on this period. It also shows that, as was the case with the critics of the Oslo process, critics of this plan – which, like the Oslo agreement, was put together with no discussion or debate, against the strenuous opposition of the defense establishment and with no thought of what would come in its aftermath – will be proven right in all of their warnings of impending disaster.


There are still two months before this ill-begotten and breathtakingly ridiculous plan is to be carried out. In the time that remains it will be interesting to see whether those, both in Israel and the US, who were brave enough to oppose the Oslo plan on the basis of its obvious and gaping flaws but who today, placing their trust in large part on Sharon's reputation as a strong leader, support the withdrawal plan, will reconsider that support. If they do not, they, like Sharon, will not be remembered by history for their past bravery, but rather for their decision to prefer momentary and opportunistic accolades for their "moderation" over the long-term security of the State of Israel and the stability of the Middle East as a whole.


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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