During the mounting crisis of May 1967, when many Israelis were looking ahead to the Six-Day War with fear of the 6 million in their minds, there was one tough, old lady in the ruling party, retired from the government, but not from politics - Golda Meir. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol caved into pressure and handed over the defense portfolio to Moshe Dayan at a bargain basement price. Along with him, the leaders of Herut and the Liberals, Menachem Begin and Yosef Sapir, also joined the government. It's unnecessary, argued Golda, the Alignment's secretary general, because "we don't need partners in a victory." Her view wasn't accepted. The fear there wouldn't be a victory moved the majority in the Alignment to seek partners for a failure.
Now, too, like before June 1967, Israel is in a waiting period. Now, too, the prime minister is deterred from the temptation of winning without partners. And there will be a great victory: the eradication of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq will unblock the logjam in the political process toward the achievement of regional security and fulfillment of the equation "land for peace."
In another six months, said an experienced assessor of national interests, far from Ariel Sharon in his views, there will be a totally different reality here. The American force that will be applied to Baghdad will sweep the Palestinians and Israelis, the Lebanese and Syrians and even the Iranians, forcing them all to change their outdated positions and open up new arenas.
That's what wars do, by virtue of military decisions or political negotiations, whether it's the Maginot line, the Bar-Lev line or the Sharon line against evacuation of all the settlements. One has to be blind or Amram Mitzna not to see what's waiting for Israel at the end of the Iraqi war, and to not understand that this is one of those rare moments, ahead of a change that is coming, to shape the liquid before it hardens.
Hosni Mubarak, who loves Sharon even less than Mitzna, is wise enough to draw the conclusion that it doesn't matter what Sharon says, what matters is what Bush does. Sharon will have to hand over the card of evacuating Netzarim to Bush and Mubarak (who received Yamit from him in 1982) but not voluntarily, and not as long as Yasser Arafat is around to lead the celebrations.
A few weeks after Yamit was demolished, Begin and Sharon went to war in Lebanon - and not with a mere "narrow coalition," but with a minority in the Knesset. The Labor Party could have saved Begin from Sharon and Israel from Lebanon if it had joined the government, and either Shimon Peres or Yitzhak Rabin had taken up the defense portfolio. They made do, instead, with listening to briefings and passive head-nodding, without any influence over the events. Their presence in the government and their control over the IDF would have prevented the imbroglio in Lebanon (which later influenced the territories and contributed to the outbreak of the intifada) and thus, who knows, perhaps the partial fall of the Likud in the following elections. Was it a good deal? How would Mitzna the officer have behaved if he had been a politician at the time?
Mitzna can grab Sharon by the horns, saving him from himself, but he is a captive of his own character and image - so straight, so upright that he'll be buried standing up. His report card will show he was awarded good marks for cleanliness and neatness (depending on the outcome of the police inquiry) but low marks when it comes to assessing the situation and political maneuvering.
Israel needs a local version of one of the most besmirched prime ministers in its history because he disappointed Israel when it was being established - Clement Atlee. Like Mitzna, Atlee participated as a young officer in Winston Churchill's great failure - Gallipoli, during World War I. In World War II, as Labor's leader, he was Churchill's deputy in the government and restrained Churchill's adventurism. The day after the victory, the voters chose him, not Churchill. It's too bad that Sharon is prime minister, but that's the reality. Just like the coming American blow. The question is whether one should cook something up, or wait until he is served cold leftovers.
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