High Noon at the Likud Corral

Warrior: The Autobiography of Ariel Sharon

by Ariel Sharon and David Chanoff
Simon and Schuster, 571 pp., $24.95

Sharon: An Israeli Caesar

by Uzi Benziman
Adama Books, 276 pp., $17.95

After the massacre of hundreds of women and children in Sabra and Shatilla in 1982 during the Lebanon War, a commission of inquiry in Israel found that Ariel Sharon, as defense minister, had “indirect responsibility” for the massacre. The massacre was carried out by Maronite Christian units, but the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps were under Israeli control and Israel had responsibility for them. The commission demanded that Sharon be dismissed from the post of defense minister. A friend of Sharon’s said at that time: “Those who didn’t want him as Chief of Staff got him as a defense minister; those who don’t want him as defense minister will get him as prime minister.”

This was not a promise but a threat, and it still hovers over public life in Israel, a sword of Damocles. Damocles, it will be remembered, was invited by the tyrant Dionysus to a sumptuous banquet at which he found himself eating and drinking under a naked sword hung on a thin thread. To give a sumptuous banquet and hang a naked sword from the ceiling over his enemy would not be out of character for Ariel Sharon.

In February Sharon resigned his position in the cabinet as minister of industry and trade. For months he and his allies had been accusing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of being too “soft” on the intifada and even willing to deal indirectly with the PLO; and following the dissolution of the coalition government in March, he continues to challenge Shamir for the leadership of the governing Likud party. Sharon is a man who knows only two states of mind, fighting and preparing for fighting. In his battle with Shamir he has been making alliances on Shamir’s political right, including the members of the small parties, such as the Tehya, that implicitly favor expulsion of Palestinians from the occupied territories; and pressure from these allies of Sharon’s was one of the main reasons for Shamir’s refusal to deal with the PLO and with his subsequent defeat in the Knesset.

If the current efforts of Shimon Peres to form a government should fail and Sharon were to become prime minister, he would first have to win the support of centrist political opinion, which is willing to tolerate implicit recognition of the PLO. “I am Arik de Gaulle and only I can bring about peace with the Palestinians,” he likes to suggest. Meanwhile he is trying to put across to American public opinion, and especially the organized Jewish community there, a message that can be summarized as follows: “I, Sharon, am not the bully that you think I am. I am a sensitive warrior who is fighting hard and strong for God’s little acre of Jews in their land, against the Arab scoundrels trying to kill them.”

Sharon claims that he is not, as he is often said to be, a master of improvisation, but a careful planner for the future who pays a great deal of attention…

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