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The bizarre and puzzling episode known as the "Tennenbaum affair" is gradually turning into what Alfred Hitchcock called a "MacGuffin" - an inscrutable subplot, shrouded in mystery, that diverts attention from the main plot. In our case, the real and main mystery is the weird behavior of Ariel Sharon - not just in this affair, but throughout his three years as prime minister, if not his entire public career.

For months, everyone wondered what lay behind Sharon's unusual efforts to secure Tennenbaum's return from Lebanon - his one tenacious, consistent and accomplished action so far in his two terms as prime minister. Yet it was precisely for the sake of this certifiably dubious character that Sharon threw himself into the fray.

He did so with exceptional determination and caring, such as he has never shown for any other positive goal in the last three tears - certainly not for the security, well being and future happiness of Israel's residents.

What was the secret of the spell that Tennenbaum, of all people, cast over Sharon? Is it the fact that he was a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces? Would Sharon have shown similar empathy for an ordinary honest citizen who was innocent of any wrongdoing?

Or could it be that it was the twisting, dark morality of the man that spoke to the heart of one for whom the wink, the deceit and the "non-truth" are no strangers at any level of behavior - from the reprisal raids half a century ago to the Lebanon War, from the settlements to the police investigations?

This week, the conundrum seemed to have an answer by Ma'ariv daily's exposure of the "missing link" between Sharon and Tennenbaum. Strangely, though, these revelations don't so much shed light as deepen the dark mystery of Sharon's behavior. Indeed, the Tennenbaum affair is no more than an allegory - one more fiasco in the chain of Sharon fiascos, which share amazingly similar characteristics.

They all begin with winking, nodding and deception and false presentations of events. They are all wrapped in arrogant, self-confident manifestations of infinite cunning. They all eventually end in disgrace, bereavement and failure, if not in some historic blunder that sets in motion generations of grief.

Isn't this the way - with a spin-rich, self-defeating "shrewdness" - that the "affair of the fence" was handled? Isn't this how our whole life was run by Sharon for the past three years? And isn't this how - steeped in the cunning of personal conduct - Sharon found himself with egg on his face over and over again?

This is how the strange "deal" with Hezbollah was carried out; this was how the chance to consolidate Abu Mazen as Palestinian prime minister was missed; this was how the Palestinian Authority was smashed to smithereens, sewing terrorist chaos in the territories and strengthening Hamas.

And with the same arrogant blindness, in a kind of domino run of damage on top of damage, it was the same Sharon who, in his shrewd "war of choice" in Lebanon brought about the creation of Hezbollah on the border of Manara and Metullah.With the same "shrewdness" he drove home the wedges called settlements.

There is no reason to believe that the deceptions swirling around the "road map" or the "disengagement plan" are not another "shrewd plan" of Sharon's that is starting to unfold - a thing of shreds and patches, of caprices and improvisations. There is no sort of reasonable response to any objection or warning put forward by either right or left. Why operate without dialogue? Why a wall like this along such a route? And what will we do when the fence is bypassed by shooting and missiles? And what will happen in the chaos behind the wall?

Yet, in the very contemplation of these conundrums, the mystery of Sharon's behavior solves itself. Maybe it has nothing to do with sly interests, deep psychology born of a difficult childhood, or some brilliant conspiracy. Maybe the solution lies right in front of us, so therefore we can't see it. It may be elementary, dear Watson, it may be the reason is quite simply a lack of intelligence.

Let it be said at once that Sharon may be as sharp as a whip, as cunning and elusive as an eel, but - as the Nahal Brigade troupe used to sing - "he's not so smart." Certainly not so smart as many, himself included, may think. It's plain that the guy doesn't think things through, not at a national level, and not in personal behavior. His thinking is a bit lowbrow. Yes it's hurried, packed with tactics, lacking any sense of broad horizons or distilled knowledge, void of any real, responsible strategy.

That may be an unpleasant explanation for the mystery of the systematic, unrelenting failure of Sharon - as politician, statesman, leader, and personally - except for his skill at getting elected at the polls. But is there any other explanation?

Gloomy and bizarre as it may sound, Sharon, who is considered to be the personification of Israeli resourcefulness, is actually a feckless type - a kind of "shrewd" ne'er do well who has stepped out of all the Jewish jokes together, from Hershele to the Wise Men of Chelm.

He's the one who waits for either for the squire to leave or the dog to die; he the one who ate smelly fish and was beaten and kicked out of town; he's the one who carried out his threat and went to sleep hungry. And, as the situation of Sharon and state of the nation attest that both are trapped in the same quagmire of misery, it might even be funny - if the joke wasn't on us.