Sunday, January 29, 2006

Shattered Dreams

For a while, I have been praising the genius behind Ariel Sharon's tactics even as I disagreed with them. Hamas' victory last week is yet another case in point.

Ponder: Ariel Sharon, right-wing hawk, gets elected on a platform of providing security. In the past, he was a huge supporter of settlements. He mocks Amram Mitzna's plans to disengage from parts of Gaza, and promises to do no such thing. 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. In Palestinian elections, Hamas handily beats Fatah, grabbing well over 50% of the seats on the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Was anything in the above paragraph a surprise? Not if you are Ariel Sharon. This was Ariel Sharon's 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 - and perhaps win the election. They vote for Netanyahu and the Likud in strong numbers, rather than the assorted smaller parties: Hoping to at best challenge for the Prime Minister position, at worst be the obvious choice as a coalition partner. 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 in the mid-to-high 30's. The Likud grabs around 25, with the right-wing and religious parties picking up another 25. The left and Arab parties have less than 40 seats, possibly in the low 30's. 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."

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; not Netanyahu, not Olmert, and certainly not Peres. 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.

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  1. This is a really great post with a very effective ending!!! Make sure to send it to HH. By the way, what happened to this week's HH?

  2. Could be she's still working on it... I've been waiting too! :)

  3. It's supposed to be Kesher Talk this week. I guess we'll see it tomorrow.

    Still I don't buy it. I don't think that Sharon considered the possibility that Hamas would win the legislative elections.

    While I agree with you that the outcome of the Israeli election will likely end up with the center-right holding about 3/4 of the Knesset (as did the 2003 elections) but with Likud being the dominant party again. Netanyahu stuck with disenagement for too long, but I believe that his "defensible borders" has a lot more credibility than anyone else advocating unilateral withdrawal.
    Of course this is all speculation.
    (Isn't this a lot your George Bush article that got published in Opinion Journal?)

  4. I don't think that Sharon considered the possibility that Hamas would win the legislative elections.

    I think it was obvious, in retrospect: Fatah was accomplishing zero. Sharon had acted without Fatah being involved in the slightest (oh, left that out...), which means they weren't contributing in any way. Throw in corruption, lack of leadership, and a Hamas social services system that was incredibly successful, and it's clear that Hamas was going to win.

    Now, Netanyahu may win - but I still think Kadima will, if only because people don't want the Likud to.

    Yes, it's all speculation - but IMHO, it has a very solid basis.

    Heh - I was actually thinking as I finished it that I should submit it to OJ, but I think the first half is a bit too choppy. Maybe I will anyway, though... btw, so far I'm right on Bush. I've been thinking of a follow-up piece, but I'm going to wait another few months first.

  5. None of Israel's intelligence services predicted it but it was obvious?

    I didn't believe that Kadima would have remained a majority party even if Sharon had been healthy. I suppose it could have been the exception, but that was only because of Sharon.

    I think he counted on two things: his own continued presence in politics and the continuation of the status quo.

    It's one of the problems when someone thinks himself indispensible and doesn't regard anyone else as fit to know what he's thinking.

    I see no reason to assume that he foresaw this possibility.

  6. Well, that's my point: His one failing was his counting on his own continued presence in politics. He was right to think himself indispensable - he IS the only one who could have carried out his plans all the way; and telling anybody would have defeated it early. As I stated above, it makes far more sense to say that Hamas would win, no matter what the intelligence services thought; granted, it's easier for me to say now, but in retrospect, there hasn't been anything particularly surprising - which is why there has been no uproar in Israel. (The stock market didn't move when Hamas won, for example. When Bibi resigned, it fell 5%.)

  7. Ezzie - I think you are reading way too much into Arik Sharon's supposed "brilliance". One, he picked Bibi to be finance minister and Shalom to be foreign minister to weaken them both. Bibi was the clear choice for foreign minister because he is an accomplished English speaker and a past Prime Minister. Sharon didn't want him to succeed - so he gave him the finance position. Sharon did not imagine that Bibi would be so successful.

    Two, Sharon always flew by the seat of his pants. The reason that he kept his cards close to his chest was that he didn't have long term plans. Being able to think on your feet is a necessary skill here in Israel in general, and in the army in particular. When things change so quickly you have to be able to move with the times - which he did, many times successfully.

    I know, it sounds paranoid to Americans, but Sharon really did make his decisions on Gaza because of the threat of indictment over his head and over Omri's head. In a few weeks Omri will be sentenced - either to jail time or to "public service". I predict he won't spend one day in jail. Even with Arik out of the picture, there are a lot of powerful people behind the scenes in Israel who don't want to see all of their hard earned protectzia go to waste.

  8. It is a plausible "what if" scenario, but it is only a "what if" - what if Ariel Sharon had not had his stroke. We do not know that this is how it would have played out.
    Many times in the past the Israeli government has threatened a massive full force response if they should so much as lift their fingers. We pulled out of Lebanon and over time it has gotten quiet. But originally Barak threatened that now that we will be out, if they so much as look at us the wrong way we will use full scale force. they kidnapped and killed a number of our soldiers and we did nothing. We pulled out of Gaza with similar promises, yet with Kassams falling on Sderot and even Southern Ashkelon, we have not done anything.
    Promises and threats of full retaliation have not been implemented, and there is no reason to think Ariel Sharon would have actually used this force in the situation you propose.

    But it is very plausible and a great post!

  9. This is a truely excellent piece of writing, and you stole my comment for your closing paragraph!

    Israel is always full of suprises and we're at a juncture without an alternative. Sharon is out of the picture and no one really knew his long term plan.

    I hope your preditcion of the right clubbing together comes true, but we look set to have a centre-left government rather than the prefered centre-right.

    Time to play the waiting game?

  10. This is a very interesting scenario, and you have the measure of Sharon. But, I do not think you have the measure of your opponent. An Israeli incursion with full military force will lead to the further radicalization of Islamists in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, et cetera.

    The Israeli army will mop the floor, of course, with any band of Hamas -- but this is an existential battle. There will be no peace tables.

  11. WestBankMama - One, he picked Bibi to be finance minister and Shalom to be foreign minister to weaken them both. Sharon didn't want him to succeed - so he gave him the finance position. Sharon did not imagine that Bibi would be so successful.

    I agree Sharon was trying to weaken Bibi; at the same time, most people (er, most outside of Israel) agreed that Bibi's plans for the economy were in the long-term interests of the country. I remember arguing with my cousins even then about this, as they were against an American style economy; a few years later, they begrudgingly admit I was correct. I think he not only wanted Bibi to succeed, he needed him to.

    Two, Sharon always flew by the seat of his pants. The reason that he kept his cards close to his chest was that he didn't have long term plans. Being able to think on your feet is a necessary skill here in Israel in general, and in the army in particular. When things change so quickly you have to be able to move with the times - which he did, many times successfully.

    That's somewhat the point of this piece, but read the link on the word "while". If you really think about it, he almost never did things by the seat of his pants: He just gave off that impression, because it allowed him to do what he wanted. This is where his genius lies. (I should note that I don't agree with everything he did, one of the reasons being because it was too reliant on himself; that's another point of this piece.)

    I know, it sounds paranoid to Americans, but Sharon really did make his decisions on Gaza because of the threat of indictment over his head and over Omri's head.

    It doesn't sound too paranoid: We had a President who threw missiles because of a scandal with an intern. That being said, it's not true. Sharon wouldn't ruin a country he clearly loved and was dedicated to to change the headlines. Perhaps it changed the timing of certain leaks a bit, or perhaps he concentrated on it more because of Omri; but that's not "why" the disengagement happened.

  12. Rafi G: In a way, you're right. Who says Sharon would have been any different?

    But if you look at Sharon's history, I think it is clear that he would do so. He always would charge forward in battle when people were afraid of how it would "look", from charging to Cairo to Operation Defensive Shield. He quickly went into Gaza after the Disengagement when Hamas started up, though he just held the status quo. We'll never know, but this makes sense to me.

    IYWI: I still think the government will be center-right, but not as strong, and with a weaker leader. But it is time to play the waiting game...

  13. McOrn - You're alive! :)

    Copy Editor: That's not really true. Those countries have all recognized they are no match for Israel, and their people are already quite radicalized. In the face of a democratic Iraq, they are coming to the conclusion that they are far happier and better off by growing up.

    Egypt can't afford to lose aid by fighting Israel - plus, they can't win. Iraq & Afghanistan have no interest, and no ability to attack; and Iran can't afford to attack, knowing that would give the US and others the perfect reason to go right to Tehran. Pakistan is too far away, and India (oddly enough) is one of Israel's strongest allies. Things have quieted there - they don't need to get things going again.

  14. westbankmama, you couldn't be more wrong about Sharon. Sharon has been natoriously (sp?) known to be a master strategist. Nothing is done by the "seat of his pants". He's always thinking 2, 3, even 10 steps ahead. Ask any military officer worth their stuff, and they will tell you the same thing.

    And, the conspiricy theory that Sharon carried out the Disengagement Plane as a way to not be prosecuted, along with his son, is completely baseless. And, while, Ezzie, you're right that Clinton fired a couple of missiles at some tents and an advil factory in the desert in Iraq to draw attention from his various scandals, it didn't work. He was impeached anyways. Even if he hadn't been, he obviously was not going to carry an all out war against Iraq as a ploy to cicumvent his misadventures. It was a few minute delay to the problem.

    So to here, westbankmama. If Sharon was using the possibility of Disengagement to to get out of any legal troubles, he wouldn't have carried it out. It would have been pointless. And, I can say that based on what has happened now. His son was still indicted even with the Disengagement going on, and the investigation of Sharon also continued, and the charges were dropped.

    Still speaking about that completely dishonors and doesn't take into account every single high brass military person, tactician, and strategist (of which there were hundreds) that said that the situation in Gaza was no longer tenable and was putting the entire country at risk.

    Ezzie, based on this good article, I recommend a great follow-up reading for you. I think you would be interested and appreciate it.

  15. OC - Thanks for the article, it gives a better background.

    I should have clarified that Clinton's tactics didn't work, and while such tactics move scandals off the front pages, the investigations continued. Well structured comment, thanks.

  16. sigh.... very sad to see people still believing that Sharon was a "master strategist" who had all this figured out.

    He was a personally brave military leader who impetuous and risky style inspired loyalty. He was not a brilliant strategist more than 2 or 3 moves ahead.

    He was corrupt up to his ears - not just recently, either.

    One story sums it up:

    Shortly after he left the army, he was introduced to another former general who was starting a political party. Sharon met with him. The general gave Sharon a copy of the party's working platform.

    About a week later Sharon held a press conference, in which he read out the other guy's material - verbatim - as if it were all his own idea, his party.

    When he met the general later, Sharon chortled and said: "the whole army knows that I'm a 'neveilah' and you didn't?"

    None of this is "brilliant strategy" - not betraying your most loyal base, not trashing the Likud, not turning Gush Katif into Palestinian launching pads (which probably went a long way towards making Hamas credibly electable in many Pali eyes).

    Sharon twisted and turned with little concern for democracy or long-term consolidation of his political base. Instead of cleaning out the judiciary and the broadcast media - both in his control as PM - he caved to the blackmail exerted upon him from these left-wing bastions. In the end they would have discarded him the moment he balked or strayed from the left-wing agenda - as they say in Hebrew slang, "HaKushi asah et sheloh, HaKushi yachol lalechet" - "the nigger has been useful, but now the nigger can go".

    It's also likely that Kadimah will tank - and would have even if Sharon were still active. This raft of backbiting losers has no agenda other than saving the political skins of its members.

    There REALLY, really was no grand plan, folks. Just backstabbing and brutal Mafia-style politics to stay alive.

    It seems some people's response to our uncertain times is to crave a "strong leader" - and create one out of the merest wisp of PR smoke.

  17. Ben-David - I'm sorry, I have to disagree. I thought very similarly, but looking back, it's just so... :::obvious::: to me. Conclusive? No. But it makes so much more sense. Also, click on the link on the word "while" - I quote from a great article there that talks about what you said regarding his strategics.

  18. Ben-David, I wonder what your credentials are for making such a grandiose statement. Are you a military strategist or tactician? The majority of well known strategists agree that Sharon was a masterful strategist. You don't face down thousands of Syrians coming at only about 600 of your man and still win by flying by the seat of your pants. And, he didn't only do this once but many a times.

    His political tactics being shady and perhaps a little bit unethical in order to get an agenda accomplished is just good politics whether you want to admit it or not.

    And, Gush Katif turning out the way it did had nothing to do with Sharon, it started the day Oslo was signed. The Disengagement was coming and was going to have to be done, whether it was Sharon or Netanyahu, or another yahoo. It was inevitable. The Disengagement also did nothing to strengthen Hamas' stance, being that every terrorist group took credit for the settlements' demise. Hamas takes credit for every tectical decision Israel does to secure itself. It may have given them an extra percentage point in the polls, but I doubt it. Hamas popularity has been reinforced because of all of Fatah's and PA's corruption.

    The main thing here is that you can disagree with the political methods Sharon used to get things done, but you can't argue with the fact that he has accomplished everything that he wanted, and he did what he needed to get it done. To say there has been no grand plan is to look over the course of the chain of events and not connect the dots.

    I am not creating something out of nothing in some naive effort to have a "strong leader". I am looking at all the facts and stating obvious conclusions. To think that it's not in all politicians' heads to save their own skin would be extremely naive on your part. It's good politics to see that a strong winning party is being formed with logical politics that is aimed at following the main stream that the country is heading towards and join it. And, again, the obvious here is that will Kadima will win. Likud will falter, and the current coalition will stay intact. Kadima wasn't constructed to be a long lasting party. Who it will become when it falls is anybody's guess, but it has caused a ripple effect that now forces every other major party to redefine what it's all about and where it's going.

    Now, that's good politics.