Some of this may be familiar. I have borrowed much from past posts I've written on the subject.
It never ceases to fascinate me the way in which history is written. History is written by people far off into the future, writing about events happening in the present; events which were shaped by the actions of people in the past. Often, true genius, bravery, or heroism is not recognized until long after the actions have taken place - and more often, those brave heroes or visionaries will tell you there was really no choice in the matter. Many of the greatest decisions and actions in history were given scarcely a thought, with the circumstances forcing the hands of those who were to become heroes.
I think that it is for this reason that true visionaries are rarely recognized as heroes. Visionaries often shape the way in which history will unfold, thinking a number of levels and steps ahead of everyone around them. Their actions are seen as reactions to the events which surround them, when in fact the events which surround them are reactions to them. In some instances, a visionary will make a seemingly rash or misguided decision - and yet, after some short-term grumbling, this decision will be viewed in retrospect as a wise, even brilliant, tactical maneuver.
Ariel Sharon was such a visionary. Victor Davis Hanson put it well before the disengagement from Gaza:
"Brilliant tactician, lousy strategist." So goes the conventional wisdom about the old bulldozer Ariel Sharon.In case you are still not convinced, think about it this way. Ariel Sharon, right-wing hawk, runs for election on a platform of providing security. In the past, he was a huge supporter of building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. During the campaign, he continually mocks Labor candidate Amram Mitzna's plans to disengage from parts of Gaza, and promises to do no such thing. After winning handily, he then proceeds to strengthen the walls on and near the "Green Line", against the wishes of settlers who feel they are being cut off and out of the future borders of the State of Israel. He promotes disengagement, against his own Likud party platform. He goes along with the Roadmap, strengthening Mahmoud Abbas - but keeping him weak enough that he's essentially worthless. He removes, to the sorrow of millions of Jews worldwide - whether they agreed or disagreed with the planned disengagement - all of the Jewish communities in Gaza. He is thrown out of the Likud, and immediately establishes a new party, Kadima, which would draw from the center and center-left of the political spectrum. The party is popular, and threatens to grab well over 30 seats in the upcoming elections - polling as high as 45 out of a possible 120. In Palestinian elections, Hamas handily beats Fatah, grabbing well over 50% of the seats on the Palestinian Legislative Council.
But that assessment is exactly backward.
Sharon's strategic insight has always proved more impressive than his messy tactical operations. For now, keep that in mind — even as we seem to watch divided Israelis yell at each other while united Palestinians gloat about expelling the Zionists.
Gen. Sharon's counterattack across the Suez Canal in October 1973 during the Yom Kippur war was also seen as reckless, in its disregard for logistics and lines of communication. His 1982 army that invaded Lebanon proved tactically lax in allowing allied Christian militias to commit atrocities.
But Sharon's long-term thinking? That's another story altogether. Trapping the Egyptian 3rd Army in the Sinai, and then showing the world that Cairo itself was defenseless in the path of an Israeli armored division, was a strategic masterpiece aimed at ending the 1973 war outright to Israel's advantage.
The march into Lebanon forced Yasser Arafat out of the Middle East for a decade — and he might have been discredited for good as a defeated terrorist had third parties not escorted him to Tunis or brought him back under the Oslo accords.
Was anything in the above paragraph a surprise? Not if you are Ariel Sharon. This was all perfectly in line with Ariel Sharon's own prophetic dream...
At the height of this intifada, amidst daily suicide bombings and shootings, Sharon promised an embattled country not peace - but security. He appoints Bibi Netanyahu, his only possible threat from the right - and a weak one at that - to the Finance Minister position, and allows him to revamp the Israeli economy, with much success. He builds a coalition, not of the right, his obvious allies - but of the center-left, establishing that he is not the hawk he once was. He builds up the security wall, knowing that it will reduce terror attacks, further reducing the country's wish for a right-wing leader: With less terror attacks, there is less need for a hawk.
Sharon then continues his shift to the center: Not conceding on security, he continues targeting those terrorist masterminds he can - but accepting Abbas as a peace partner, establishing the Palestinian leadership as an entity that even the former hawk recognizes. He carries out the disengagement, further entrenching himself in the center, becoming the "hero" of the left. At the same time, the Palestinians rush into Gaza and destroy what is left, tainting their victim image in the eyes of the world. Labor, sick of being a weak partner, chucks out perennial loser Shimon Peres and inserts socialist Amir Peretz in his place. The Likud throws Sharon out, and he quickly creates a strong Kadima, including Peres; so strong, in fact, that the Israeli Knesset is expected to have less than 40 seats that are to the left. Fatah is completely unable to reign in Hamas nor control Hamas-run Gaza, and corruption accusations run amok as the Israelis focus on new elections, ignoring the Palestinians completely.
Now, imagine what happens next: Hamas establishes power, and promises not to negotiate with Israel. They promise to build an army, and possibly even close off borders with Israel. They build up a strong - but not overwhelming - force, with support from Iran and Syria, including numerous rockets. Israel watches what is happening, and react accordingly: The right-wing feels it absolutely prudent that the right be part of any coalition. Knowing Sharon will win the election handily, they vote for Likud and other right-wing parties in strong numbers, hoping to force Sharon to choose them as coalition partners. The center-left, meanwhile, reacts to this in obvious fashion: Backing Sharon and Kadima, to make it as little reliant on the right as possible.
Israeli elections are held, with Sharon's Kadima grabbing a huge amount of seats, perhaps 42. The Likud grabs around 16, with the right-wing and religious parties picking up another 30. The left and Arab parties have less than 40 seats, possibly as low as 30.* Sharon has cemented the strongest center-right Knesset in decades, with almost 3/4 of its members either in Kadima or to its right. Sharon warns that any and all attacks will be viewed as a declaration of war by an elected government of the Palestinian people. The moral argument of the Palestinians has been removed: They are no longer under "occupation."
* To put this into perspective... In actuality, the Arab parties grabbed 9 seats, Meretz took 5, and Labor holds 20 - for a grand total of 34 seats, despite a much weaker Ehud Olmert as Kadima's leader. With Ariel Sharon at the head, it is logical to assume that a few of those Labor seats would have gone to Sharon, as would have some from the right.
Hamas threatens to carry out attacks if their demands are not meant; Sharon vows to respond with the full force of the Israeli Army in the event of an attack. The ante keeps being upped, with threats and vows of retaliation on both sides... and then all hell breaks loose. A terror attack is carried out somewhere in Israel - and Sharon keeps his promise. With over 2/3 of the Israeli government voting "Yes", he responds with full military power: Not the door-to-door combat of Operation Defensive Shield, but rather the full force of the Israel Defense Forces - planes, helicopters, and tank battalions. A government of terrorists can no longer say that the terrorists are not under their control. Rather, the attacks perpetrated on the citizens of Israel are by representatives of the Palestinian government - and cannot be accepted.
The terrorist infrastructure is completely destroyed, as are Palestinian hopes for further Israeli concessions. A new Palestinian government, devoid of terrorists, elected by a shattered people, agrees to final status talks, discarding the "right of return" and the hopes of a capital in East Jerusalem, accepting instead Gaza and substantial portions of the West Bank as their new country's borders. Ariel Sharon is hailed Israel's greatest leader since the times of the Bais Hamikdash (Temple), and Israel is finally able to live in peace.
All this, Ariel Sharon saw in his dreams. If only he had been a true prophet, he would have foreshadowed the one, fatal flaw in his plans: It requires an Ariel Sharon to carry it out. No other Israeli leader could possibly continue that which Sharon began - certainly not Ehud Olmert. Had Ariel Sharon forseen his own demise, and somehow been able to counteract it, we could have had a truly secure Israel, with a true peace, and with true borders. Instead, we now have a country with a dying leader, a broken "peace process," and a ruined Palestinian government that has nobody with which to deal. All we have now are shattered dreams.
Even a visionary can't always see the future.