I never expected Ariel Sharon to be treated fairly by the mainstream media. I’d like to reiterate one point made by Prof. Jacobson in his post memorializing Sharon: Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount was not the cause of the so-called Second Intifada.
The New York Times obituary of Ariel Sharon gets it wrong:
Given how he had crushed the Palestinian guerrilla infrastructure in Gaza in the early 1970s, there was logic to his election. But there was a paradox, too. It was Mr. Sharon’s visit, in September 2000, accompanied by hundreds of Israeli police officers, to the holy site in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, that helped set off the riots that became the second Palestinian uprising.
Similarly, the Washington Post’s obituary:
Mr. Sharon’s controversial visit in September, 2000 to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary, a site considered holy to both Muslims and Jews, helped trigger a second Palestinian uprising that smothered hopes for a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Tower, however, presents the evidence that the violence had nothing to do with Sharon:
The July 2000 Camp David summit – hosted by Bill Clinton, with Barak and Arafat negotiating – had already failed. Arafat has been widely blamed for the talks’ collapse, including by Clinton. Palestinian figures later boasted that a wave of violence was in motion. Arafat had already released a number of high-ranking terrorists from jail by the time Sharon visited the Mount. American diplomat Dennis Ross recounts in his book The Missing Peace how the Israelis called Washington with proof that the Palestinians were “planning massive, violent demonstrations throughout the West Bank and the next morning, ostensibly a response to the Sharon visit.”
Washington pressured Arafat to dampen the violence, but the Palestinian leader – again per Ross – “did not lift a finger to stop the demonstrations, which produced the second Intifada.” Arafat, according to Ross, may have had a range of motives for letting the violence spiral out of control: “Some believe that after Camp David [Arafat] concluded that he could not achieve what he wanted through negotiations and therefore resorted to violence… Others believe he planned an escalation to violence all along… in accordance with the ‘Palestinian narrative,’ he needed Palestinian independence to result from struggle.”
(Ross’s account is more fully excerpted here.)
The point about the second (or Aqsa) intifada is important.
After Arafat rejected Ehud Barak’s peace offer at Camp David in 2000, there should have been a rethinking of the assumptions of the peace process. But during the next year stories started emerging claiming that Barak’s offer wasn’t as generous as portrayed; effectively making excuses for Arafat.
When Arafat launched his terror in September that, too, should have caused a reconsideration of premises, but the importance of Arafat’s betrayal of Oslo was lost as the media (and many diplomats) sought to cover for him again by placing blame on Sharon for causing the violence and unjustly accusing Israel of using disproportionate force in response to the violence. After thirteen years there’s been more than enough time to correct the record but the media is either too lazy or ideological (or both) to do their job properly.
I won’t discuss other media myths about Ariel Sharon as Honest Reporting has done a comprehensive job on that.
I thought that it would be nice to focus on articles that remember the former Prime Minister outside of the usual treatment he got from the MSM.
The Times of Israel retold Sharon’s near death during the battle of Latrun during Israel’s 1948 War for Independence. One part of the story worth emphasizing is:
Yakov Bugin, a 16 year-old soldier under his command, who had just joined the platoon and who himself had been shot in the jaw and was missing a large part of his face, found Sharon on his back, eyes open, looking at the sky. Sharon, unable to remember the soldier’s name, told him to “run, escape, save yourself.”
Bugin, though, wordlessly helped him through the hellish vista, boosting him up over terraces and relying on Sharon’s infallible sense of direction to guide them back through the killing field. “We had no choice but to stand tall and walk through the field in full view of the armed Palestinian peasants,” Bugin told Hefez and Bloom. “Once we stood up, we could see the Arabs shooting our wounded right beside us. They saw us, but luckily they were too busy looting the bodies to raise their weapons and kill the two miserable, bleeding soldiers limping past…All they would have had to do to kill us is raise their weapons to their shoulders. They wouldn’t even have had to run. That’s how Arik and I made our way through the field, surrounded by Arabs, until we slowly distanced ourselves from them. We were lucky that Arik knew the area well and that he had binoculars, which helped us find the area for wounded soldiers.”
Israel’s critics love to emphasize instances when Israel misbehaved during the 1948 war. In this case we learn that the Jordanian soldiers were killing the wounded Israelis.
Edward Luttwak praises Sharon’s military career, especially the unconventional tactics he used during the 1973 Yom Kippur war that made an Israeli victory possible. After describing what Israel was facing in the Sinai, Luttwak writes:
Consider the Yom Kippur War. On October 16, 1973, ten days after Egypt’s army surprised the Israelis by crossing the Suez Canal, Sharon turned defeat into victory by leading his own troops across the canal through a narrow gap in the Egyptian front. The Israelis swiftly spread out behind the Egyptians, overrunning anti-aircraft batteries and blocking supply and reinforcement routes. …
The Egyptian high command was convinced that Sharon’s crossing was only an overnight raid by light forces. Their reasoning was sound: The Israelis did not control even their own side of the canal, so they could not possibly reinforce the first wave of a few hundred men with a handful of tanks. Rather than pulling their units back across the canal to chase the raiding Israelis, the Egyptian commanders believed that their forces could capture all of them by converging toward one another, thus closing the two-mile gap that Sharon had exploited.
Sharon’s superiors agreed with their Egyptian counterparts. They ordered Sharon to stop sending forces across the canal, and instead to widen the gap on the Israeli side. Sharon did not obey, pleading communications difficulties while sending as many of his forces as possible across the canal. He calculated that attacking the Egyptians from their own rear – destroying the missile batteries that impeded the Israeli air force, ambushing reinforcements and supplies, and simply causing massive confusion across the entire front – would induce organizational collapse in the Egyptian army.
That is exactly what happened.
Luttwak presents other details of Sharon’s unconventional tactics.
After his military career, Sharon entered politics. As David Pollock writes he still fought two major wars. The second one was critical.
Sharon’s last military venture was much more successful, with favorable political results that continue to shape the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to this very day. A man who began his political life as a protégé of David Ben-Gurion and then rose to influence under Begin finally achieved the pinnacle goal of sweeping Likud to electoral victory shortly after the failure in late 2000 of the second Camp David summit and the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising. New prime minister Sharon then conceived and led Operation Defensive Shield, a series of large-scale incursions to root out Palestinian terror cells from West Bank cities at the height of the second intifada, in 2002-2003. Once again there were wildly exaggerated media accounts of Israeli responsibility for massacres, most infamously in Jenin. The accusations were false; and despite all the naysayers inside and outside Israel, the military campaign largely succeeded.
As Benjamin Weinthal points out Sharon fortified that victory by building a separation barrier.
While many European countries and politicians shamelessly and hypocritically slammed Sharon’s construction of a security barrier and other counterterrorism measures to stop Palestinian attacks, the efforts speak for themselves: According to Israel’s foreign ministry, suicide terror attacks numbered 55 in 2002, causing 220 deaths. In 2005, the last year of Sharon’s premiership, the data showed seven attacks, causing 22 killings. Two years later, in 2007, there were three deaths reported.
While it’s impossible to know if this was the blueprint for Sharon’s war on terror, Charles Krauthammer wrote a column in 2001 recommending that Israel withdraw from Gaza and build a barrier. (He followed it up with a number of columns including one in 2003 and another in 2004 chronicling Israel’s success in fighting Arafat’s terror war and the world’s (including the Bush adminstration’s) hypocrisy in condemning Israel.
What Sharon’s life has shown is that Israel faced and still faces very real threats. Contrary to the MSM treatment of Israel these are not threats that can simply be negotiated out of existence but need to be defeated. Focusing on what offends the Palestinians will not bring peace. Nor will well meaning but worthless agreements (like Oslo) bring peace unless there is a real change of heart among the Palestinians (and the wider Arab world generally.)
In his 2001 column, Krauthammer concluded:
Strike and expel. Abandon settlements and consolidate lines. Build the wall. And then? And then wait.
Sharon did all that. We are still waiting.
UPDATE: It was brought to my attention that I originally included the wrong excerpt from Edward Luttwak’s review of Ariel Sharon’s military career. The post has been updated with the correct one.
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