When he was still a young man, Ariel Sharon learned how to defy Israel's governments. As a commander of the army's Unit 101, at the age of 25, he would sit down with his soldiers and ceaselessly criticize Israel's civilian authorities. He was enraged by the government's habit of limiting his actions, of barring him from carrying out all his operational schemes on enemy territory. He had harsh words for a large share of the Israel Defense Force's top commanders at the time.
There were complex reasons for his behavior, stemming from his personality, education and personal experience. One decisive factor was the Battle of Latrun, in which he was badly injured; after witnessing the helplessness of the political and military leadership during this battle, Sharon developed disdain for it.
This feeling deepened over the years. After taking command of the Paratroopers during the 1950s, Sharon repeatedly believed that he had a better grasp than others of the "Arabs" and their intentions, and that the helm of state was in the hands of incompetents. He also grasped that he had the wherewithal to compel the Chief of Staff, and through it the government, to authorize military steps that fashion political and security realities. It also became clear to him that he had the ability to implement his military schemes with impunity, even when those plans transgressed policy lines set by his superiors.
Sharon's perception regarding the civil leadership's ineptitude stayed with him throughout his military career. It remained with him during the waiting period before the 1967 war, during the War of Attrition, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and in other roles he played.
As years passed, he became yet more attached to his view that he understands better than anyone else what to do about the enemy.
The contempt Sharon felt for the civilian leadership did not disappear when he went into politics.
He was a restless, impatient Knesset member when the Likud failed to come to power in 1974, and he became embroiled in a number of conflicts with government ministers and party colleagues. His patience for parliamentary affairs was so limited that he resigned from the Knesset just a year after being elected to it; and within a short time he offered his service as a special adviser to then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. He had little impact in this post, but before he resigned from it (eight months after being appointed), he submitted to Shamir a proposal arguing for the concentration of power in a new presidential regime, and for a declaration of a state of emergency.
Sharon's doings as a government minister in Israel after 1977 need not be reviewed in detail: as a minister under Menachem Begin, Sharon displayed little patience for accepted processed in Israel's democracy, and continually defied Begin and other prime ministers under whom he served. This syndrome reached its peak with Sharon's behavior toward the Begin government during the Lebanon War, and traces of Sharon's actions during that war could still be felt during his terms with subsequent governments.
Sharon remains a figure with an action-oriented, arrogantly self-confident, cunning and forceful personality, one who has no patience for bureaucratic routine and administrative patterns essential to democracy. His character traits have been in evidence while he has led the country during the past year and a half - a period during which he has faced a spineless government that has relinquished its right to play a real part in policy formation.
The Muqata fiasco reinforces the pathological nature of the current government. Not a single member of the cabinet seriously opposed Sharon when the decision to implement the siege on the Ramallah compound was reached. Nobody pounded the table, and stood up for a different point of view. Showing all the agility of a sumo wrestler, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer adapts himself to Sharon's schemes and ploys. Shimon Peres is adroit at providing retrospective explanations as to why policy are mistaken; yet he failed to defend his view forcefully when the Ramallah policy was adopted.
The other ministers were mute. Given such phlegmatic behavior, it's small wonder that Sharon's belief that he has the government wrapped around his little finger has been reinforced.
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