The violence between Israel and the Palestinians over the past two years might have been prevented had Israel responded promptly and firmly to the Palestinian Authority's violations of the Oslo Accords, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said yesterday.
Sharon made the comments during a speech at a memorial ceremony at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl cemetery for soldiers killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The ceremony was also attended by hundreds of relatives of the fallen soldiers, Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert and High Court Justice Eliahu Matza.
According to Defense Ministry figures, 2,229 IDF soldiers fell during the Yom Kippur War, and 390 more died by the time a cease-fire was signed in May 1974. Some 7,000 soldiers were injured in the war.
"Had Israel promptly responded as needed to the Palestinian Authority's violations of the Oslo Accords, from the first day it was implemented," the violence of war might have been averted, Sharon said.
Sharon listed among the violations incitement against Israel in the Palestinian education system and media; ongoing weapons-smuggling efforts and arming of Palestinians; the PA's failure to deal with the terror networks of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the involvement of the Tanzim paramilitary - linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction - and the PA security apparatus in terror attacks.
"If we would have responded aggressively to all of these [violations], and in time, we would have likely prevented [the events] that have taken place over the last two years, as well as the last nine years," Sharon said.
"Thus it is in the Middle East," he added. "There is no kindness and mercy for showing weakness or restraint in response to violations of agreements. That is the lesson."
According to the prime minister, "another lesson" learned in the past few years was "not to accept anything as self-evident. Not to blindly believe any promise. We must be prepared for everything and to rely mainly on ourselves."
"The Arab world has yet to reconcile itself to our existence, and has yet to accept our right to establish a Jewish state in our homeland," the prime minister said. "Such a reconciliation will mark the end of the conflict. But that will also come, if we stand up firmly for our rights.
"Sharon also said that "had Israel responded forcefully in August 1970 to Egyptian missile movements, which violated the newly signed cease-fire agreement, things would have been completely different. The Yom Kippur War would not have broken out as it did, if at all."
Yesterday's ceremony began with the lighting of the memorial torch by Hasima Mordehai, mother of Nadav Mordehai, who fell during the battle in the Sinai desert. The bodies of Mordehai and several of his comrades were missing for 26 years, until they were discovered in 1999 and laid to rest in December of that year. The traditional mourners' prayer was recited by Naim Hakim, the father of Ya'akov Hakim, who also fell during the Yom Kippur War.