Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Ariel Sharon's Latest Bombshell Be a Dud?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Ariel Sharon's Latest Bombshell Be a Dud?

Article excerpt

An observer of Ariel Sharon over many years can only conclude that one is never quite sure what "the butcher of Beirut" is up to. On Nov. 21 he decided to discard the Likud, the political party he helped found 30 years ago, and launch a new party named "Kadima," Hebrew for "forward." Sharon wants to keep only those followers who won't second-guess his own decisions-such as former Labor Prime Minister Shimon Peres-and drop those who want to ask questions. From this point on, only Sharon knows exactly where he is headed.

One of the world's most ruthless leaders, Sharon reminds this writer of the Assyrians of more than 3,000 years ago who made a point of carrying out bloodthirsty acts of terror. They then made sure that everyone knew the details of what they had done. As a result, their Near Eastern neighbors were so frightened and intimidated that they would do anything to keep the Assyrians out of their neighborhood.

Sharon's activities over more than half a century have left behind him a wide swath of destruction. Early in his career he was given command of "counter terror" Unit 101, and directed a massacre in the West Bank village of Qibya in 1953. Sharon's special forces slipped into the village, blocked the doors of the homes of sleeping villagers and then blew up the occupants. U.N. observers later counted 60 bodies.

The Israeli government later claimed that the massacre was committed by socalled "Israeli frontier settlers." It was only after members of Unit 101 began boasting to other Israelis that they acknowledged they had been carrying out terror raids throughout the West Bank.

In another Unit 101 terror raid against Palestinian civilians, Israeli commandos went to the West Bank border in 1955 and seized six young Palestinian shepherds, methodically stabbing five of them to death. They then released the youngest boy so that he would return to the village to tell what had happened to the others.

As Sharon helped prepare for the 1956 attack on the Suez Canal, he made extremely reckless decisions that nearly ended his military career. He led a series of bloody clashes against Arab forces, including a provocative 1955 attack on Egyptian troops in Gaza and a 1956 attack on Qalqilya. His aggressive policies in the north, on the border with Syria, so inflamed relations between the two countries that Sharon was ordered to limit his operations. Four young Israeli battalion commanders, including future chiefs of staff Mordechai Gur and Rafaël Eitan, accused Sharon of exceeding his orders and needlessly sending Israeli military personnel to their deaths.

Some two decades later, Sharon nearly caused a disastrous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. He already had taken his troops into a counterattack across the Suez Canal when Egypt and Israel, under pressure from their Soviet and American mentors, agreed to a cease-fire. Totally ignoring the agreement, Sharon continued to cut off Egyptian units from their supply lines. Moscow finally told Washington that if Israel did not stop this unauthorized war, Russian troops would.

Sharon began planning to invade Lebanon in 1981, when he was minister of defense. Ten months later, however, he had yet to find a pretext for an assault, since Palestinian forces were observing a ceasefire along the Lebanese-Israeli border guaranteed by the U.S. in the summer of 1981. Sharon finally seized upon the excuse of an attempted assassination of Israel's ambassador to London. He prevented an Israeli intelligence officer from informing Israel's cabinet that the thwarted assassins were not from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), so that the Israeli cabinet would not abort what Sharon told them was merely a strike against the PLO in Lebanon.

Yacov Guterman, an Israeli whose only son was killed in the battle of Beaufort Castle at the beginning of Sharon's invasion of Lebanon, has written: "If they [Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon] have only a spark of conscience and humanity, may my great pain pursue them forever, the suffering of a father in Israel whose world has been destroyed. …

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