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October 06, 1989 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-10-06

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I CLOSE-UP I

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Wielder Of The Sword

Continued from preceding page

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His dramatic crossing of
the Suez added new layers to
Sharon's image as a bold and
highly independent general.
Three months after the cease
fire, he parlayed this image
into a successful run for the
Knesset.
And in 1977, when
Menachem Begin's long
quest for political respec-
tability finally propelled
him into the prime min-
ister's slot, Sharon was ap-
pointed minister of
agriculture — a post he used
to continue his long quest to
create a new reality "on the
ground" in the occupied ter-
ritories by vastly expanding
Jewish settlements in the
region.
In person, Sharon is a sur-
prise. The popular image of a
severe, humorless man, the
kind of person who can
shrug off the continuing
carnage in Lebanon as a
kind of regional idiosyn-
crasy, is contradicted by an
the almost jovial person sit-
ting down for the interview.
In his widely praised
biography of Menachem
Begin, Amos Perlmutter
depicts Sharon in harsh
terms. "Ariel Sharon's sheer
courage and tactical ability
made him one of Israel's
greatest generals, but his
hubris and pride, his over-
weening ambition, and his
very justified image as a
brutal man have blotted his
reputation irrevocably,"
Perlmutter writes.
But the Ariel Sharon of
1989 is the consummate pol-
itician. He is at ease with an
aggressive press corps; he
smoothly deflects the
toughest questions, and
takes pains to counter the
brutal image by displaying
concern for the people with
whom he has served. His
sentimentality about the
land, about his family, seem
deep-felt and genuine. He
speaks movingly of the per-
sonal tragedies in his life —
the death of his young wife,
and a few years later, the
death of his son in a freak
shooting accident.
In fact, he seems very
much like an American poli-
tician — amiable, patriotic, a
decent guy who wants only
the best for his country. He
speaks with just the right
combination of candor and
caution. His obvious polit-
ical ambitions can even
come across as a likable
trait; this is a man who en-
joys the political process,
and believes in his own
cause with an almost appeal-
ing intensity.
It is only when he talks
about his greatest personal

crisis that some of the anger
comes through.
By the early 1980s, Ariel
Sharon was riding high as
defense minister in the se-
cond Likud government
headed by Menachem Begin.
According to his critics, he
used the position to reshape
the IDF in a more aggressive
mold. And the target all
along, critics charge, was
Lebanon and its legions of
PLO fighters.
To this day, Sharon vigor-
ously defends the necessity
of rooting out the PLO's
"kingdom of terror" by in-
vading Lebanon in 1982.
"The target was to elim-
inate terrorist bases," he
says. "People don't re-
member that there were
about 500 guns and rocket
launchers along the border,
tremendous depots of am-
munition. There were

"When the Israeli
underground
movement fought
the British, the
targets were never
civilians. Only
military targets."

underground fortifications,
about 100 tanks. There were
15,000 armed terrorists
along the northern border.
The entire population of the
northern border became
hostages. Jews were attack-
ed abroad; ambassadors
were attacked."
He denies that his goal all
along was to guarantee
Israeli rule over the occupied
territories by destroying the
PLO once and for all. But he
acknowledges that the onset
of the war and the successes
of the IDF opened up some
new possibilities for Israel's
leaders.
But these opportunities, he
argues, were largely wasted.
"First there were our own
mistakes," he says. "For in-
stance, today I would have to
think about allowing foreign
armies — and you have to re-
fer to the Lebanese
Phalange forces as an army
— to act together with Israeli
forces. There were many
other mistakes. We
hesitated, the government
took too long, things like
that."
He leaves little doubt
about who was responsible
for this hesitation.
"The Labor Party tried to
overthrow a democratically
elected government," he
says. "That is something
that never happened before
in Israel: a war as the reason
for overthrowing the

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