At the cabinet meeting on June 13, 1982, ministers asked Defense Minister Ariel Sharon how the Israel Defense Forces reached Beirut, when the cabinet had not decided on it. "We are not in Beirut, but outside its municipal borders," replied Sharon, and formally he was right. The IDF set up camp that day near the presidential palace in Ba'abde, took control of the city's airport and joined the Christian troops who were concentrated in its east. Yet all this extensive activity was carried out outside Beirut's defined municipal border.
These IDF moves had a pre-determined goal: to reach the Lebanese capital and change its government. But on the day Sharon was asked in the cabinet about the meaning of these moves, he could act innocent and ignore the connection between them and implementing his big plan, with a technical argument: the IDF had not crossed (at that time) the municipal border as it appeared in the maps.
Amram Mitzna was witness to Sharon's devious explanations in the war in Lebanon. In the libel suit Sharon filed against Haaretz, Mitzna testified that he heard an explicit order from Sharon not to present the cabinet with detailed maps, so that the ministers would not know where the arrows led to. Because the IDF was preparing to implement the big plan, while the cabinet approved a restricted operation only. Because the IDF's moves constituted an explicit provocation against the Syrians and created a situation which forced them to react, and because Sharon's excuses, that we did not provoke the Syrians, were not true.
Life is now bringing these two together again in circumstances they could not have predicted 20 years ago. Mitzna appears today as he was then - an honest man who says what he means, who is filled by disgust by lies and deceit. Sharon is trying to present himself as one who has changed his spots - he is trying to convince Labor's leader that his word can be relied on, and he also has proof - since being elected prime minister, he has declared himself to be a reliable man.
As these words are being written, between Sharon and Mitzna's meeting on Friday and their scheduled meeting last night, it is impossible to tell what their outcome will be: will Labor's chairman be appeased and agree to lead his party into a Sharon-headed government or will he stick to his initial refusal? But there is no doubt that had it not been for the baggage Sharon carries with him from his conduct in the Lebanon war, the prime minister's job of persuasion would have been immeasurably easier. This shows that Sharon's reputation as a man of dubious reliability who manipulates those around him has not been erased even in the last two years, despite his efforts to create the opposite impression.
In view of the circumstances, there appear to be weighty arguments for Labor to examine seriously Sharon's invitation to join his government. The explosive economic crisis, the opportunity to set up a government free of the extortionism of the ultra-Orthodox parties, the imminent war in Iraq and its expected implications for the Middle East, the plan to change the Palestinian Authority's leadership so that it reaches a truce with Israel and opening negotiations for an interim agreement - all these developments should not be taken lightly.
The assumption that Labor should stay on the opposition benches and hand Sharon parliamentary aid from there, if necessary, is counter-balanced by the argument that Labor should not miss the opportunity to tilt the balance in the cabinet toward its own positions and not leave the opportunity to the influence of the right wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.
However, the cloud of lack of credibility that still hovers over Sharon is making Mitzna ask himself whether the way Sharon describes the state's situation and what is expected to take place in the near future is trustworthy. Mitzna has every reason to question the validity of the political positions Sharon is presenting.
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