Recent publications on the Yom Kippur War recalled "Arik" the general, who urged his troops to "screw" the Egyptians and cross the Suez Canal. It's difficult to believe. The behavior of the current prime minister is not reminiscent of the combative corps commander of 1973. Sharon of 2003 is passive. He rarely takes the initiative, preferring to do nothing while waiting for time to act in his favor.
Sharon's patience gave Israel political stability and public calm, which was vital under the fire of the intifada and especially after the years of quick-draw zigzagging by Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. However after two and a half years in office, there are growing signs of the disadvantages of a leadership that only reacts and is deterred by risks.
The separation fence affair is the best example of Sharon"s weakness. For good or bad, the fence is the outstanding national project of his administration. The barbed wire and concrete walls are his Dimona reactor, his national water carrier, and his draining of the Hula swamps. True, those projects were also approved in a rather round-about manner, without sufficient public criticism, and were justified in terms of Zionist ideology and national needs.
But the history of the fence has broken the Israeli record for meandering decision making. It imposed itself on the previous government, which didn't want it, through a combination of public anxiety about terrorism and effective lobbying by a posse of politicians like Dan Meridor, Haim Ramon, and the mayors of towns on the seam line, and of senior officials, like Avi Dichter, Amos Yaron, Shlomo Aharonishki, and Uzi Dayan.
Sharon was never enthusiastic about the fence and doubted its efficacy. He vehemently opposed Barak's proposal, to unilaterally withdraw to a border according to "the Camp David map," which would have annexed the large settlement blocs. From the minute he was dragged into the project, Sharon tried to pretend it didn't exist or at least minimized its importance. Over and over he emphasized that it is neither a political nor a security fence, but a tactical obstacle to delay terrorists. That approach prevented him from turning the fence into a political card to play against the Americans.
Sharon accurately reckoned the Americans would oppose a fence in the middle of the West Bank stretching around Kedumim and Ariel. So, back in April he froze the construction in those areas. But instead of using the time to reach a quiet agreement with the administration, he adopted a wait and see approach - but time turned out to be against him this time. The Palestinians undertook an effective campaign against the Israeli "apartheid wall." And did intelligence alert the politician to how the Palestinians would present the case? Did the government prepare in advance?
The Americans were persuaded the Palestinians were right and Sharon suffered public criticism from President Bush. The entire world saw there are cracks in the coordination between the prime minister"s office and the White House. Now Sharon has been forced to fold and bring the fence back to the Green Line, but on his way back from Washington he discovered he was alone, and nobody is ready to share that responsibility with him.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz sticks to his recommendations to move the fence east of Ariel. As far as he is concerned, Sharon knows the alternatives and if he wants to change the route, let the prime minister decide on his own and bring the decision to the government for ratification. Mofaz's calculation is simple - he is fighting for his position at the top of the Likud and does not want to appear to be making concessions. Thus Sharon is stripped of the "professional" recommendation from the defense establishment to justify moving the fence, just as Netanyahu promised there was no financial problem and blocked the excuse of "budget cuts."
Sharon is now stuck with the white elephant of the fence, and is paying the price with international pressure - still not protected from terror attacks into the underbelly of the country. The responsibility for the failure is Sharon's, for being dragged into his decision by reality rather than trying to shape it. After all, it's not possible that he sat and waited for pressure from the Americans, just to kill the project.
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