His Eye Was Not Dim

Ariel Sharon

Ariel Sharon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so Ariel Sharon died. It was not expected, and he had no role, really since his stroke on 4 January 2006, he has been gone, although his body lived on. In this he was much like Reagan, still alive but in actuality gone. Also like Reagan, he was above all a patriot.

In truth, through most of his career, I was more involved with my career than in playing attention to world events, so while I was aware of Sharon, he didn’t in truth make all that much impression. But yesterday, in Commentary,  Elliott Abrams took care of that for us.

[…] In early 2003, President George W. Bush sent deputy national security advisor Steve Hadley and me (I was the senior Mideast official on the NSC) to meet with him, hear him out, and see what he thought of the various peace plans. Was he open to compromises? What he told us, according to my notes of the meeting, was this:

I took risks personally but never took any risks with the security of the State of Israel. I appreciate Arab promises but will take seriously only tangible performance.  For tangible performance I will take tangible steps.  Israel is a tiny small country.  From the Jordan River to Jerusalem is only 17.5 miles.  Before 1967, the Knesset was in range of machine guns south of Jerusalem. From the Green Line to Tel Aviv is 11 miles.  From the sea at Netanya to Tulkarm is 9 miles.  Two-thirds of the Jewish population lives is a narrow strip on the coastal plain.  Between Haifa and Ashdod, which is 80 miles, is two-thirds of the Jewish population, our only international airport, and most of our infrastructure.  All of that is overlooked by the hills of Judea and Samaria.

I am a Jew above all and feel the responsibility to the future of the Jewish people on my shoulders.  After what happened in the past, I will not let the future of the Jewish people depend on anyone, even our closest friends.  Especially when you saw the crowds cheering Saddam who killed even members of his own family and government.  With the deepest friendship and appreciation, we do not choose to be the lamb, but not the lion either.  I will not sacrifice the nation.  I come from a farm family who settled here but I deal with these problems with a cold mind.  I met with the Pope, who said this is Terra Sancta to all, but Terra Promisa for the Jews only.

So: “a Jew above all” who wanted Jews to be able to make their own decisions and protect themselves in their sovereign state. I often thought he divided the world into two groups, Jews and all the rest, the latter being further divided into real friends like George W. Bush and real enemies—like most of the Arabs. On this he was unsentimental in the extreme. In the summer of 2005 Sharon gave then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a tour of his ranch, after which the Israeli and American teams sat down for a meal.  Sharon sat silently for a while, as he often did, eating huge amounts of food while he listened to the conversation.  Several of the Israelis were criticizing the Palestinians and their leaders harshly: their actions, their political culture, their history.  Eventually Sharon jumped in and said, “I am going to defend the Palestinians.  I have known the Palestinians my whole life.  I was raised with them here.  Of all the Arabs, the Palestinians are the most talented, and they have the best sense of humor.  But there are two problems: their desire to murder and their taste for Jewish blood; and their treacherous ingratitude.”

[…]

His pullout from Gaza won him accolades from many governments, starting with our own and the Europeans. When he went to the UN General Assembly in September 2005 his dance card was full: everyone wanted to see Sharon, the old bull, the warrior-turned-peacemaker, the guy who had done something no other Israeli leader could have managed. That last was true, and Sharon used to tell me, “the left can’t do anything and the right won’t. If I don’t do it, it won’t ever be done. If I am defeated in this, no one will ever try it again.”

But Sharon had a long memory, and he knew that many of those paying tribute in 2005 had once viewed him as an untouchable. Even in America: In 1991, when Sharon had visited the United States as Minister of Housing, not a single U.S. official would meet with him formally.[…]

This is why he thought his exchange of letters with Bush in 2004 was a triumph: for the first time an American president said there was no “right of return” for Palestinian “refugees” and that, as Bush’s letter put it, “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers” would have to be reflected in any peace settlement. There would be no return to what are usually called “1967 borders” but that Bush rightly called the 1949 armistice lines.

[…] If that enemy was sour, Sharon could be sweet.

But this was Ariel Sharon; sweetness might have been nice, security was everything.[…]

Bush liked Sharon for many of the same reasons he liked Tony Blair or John Howard in Australia: they were people who got themselves elected not to enjoy life but to accomplish things. They were willing to take political risks to do what they thought right. Sharon as prime minister certainly met that test, though it cost him the support of many of his old friends in Israeli politics—not least among the settlers, who saw him as a traitor to the cause. […]

On January 4, 2006, at his ranch, Sharon suffered the massive stroke from which he never recovered. His death was expected, and we in Washington laid plans for the funeral; the president intended to go. I wrote a eulogy for the president to read at the funeral, and kept the final version, worked over by the speechwriters, with me over the next few months so it would be handy when Sharon died:

Ariel Sharon also knew this land as a soldier. He enlisted in the struggle for a Jewish homeland as a boy … fought in all of   Israel ’s wars … and was severely wounded in battle. Over an army career, he became familiar with every inch of the terrain. He knew how high the hills were … how broad the rivers … where enemies would be likely to hide or strike. And knew he that the land he loved needed both swords and plowshares to prosper in an environment always harsh and often hostile. Ariel Sharon was a brilliant general—and led Israel to some of its most celebrated victories.  His experience also taught him the costs of war. In his autobiography, he wrote that “at the age of twenty, most of my friends were dead.”  Because he understood these costs, he believed so deeply in keeping Israel strong.  Because he understood these costs, the man who made his reputation in battle would also leave his mark as a peacemaker.

In his pursuit of peace, Prime Minister Sharon proved as daring and resourceful as he had been as a general and tank commander. As leader of his nation, he made decisions that caused him great personal pain—and that he knew would be unpopular with many who had been his closest supporters. Yet he stood by his decisions, for this warrior did not dream of more victory in battle; he dreamed of peace for the people he led. And when he committed Israel to a new plan for peace, he did so on the same terms that he had insisted on throughout his life – from a position of strength.

Bringing peace to his people was his life’s work, and Ariel Sharon kept at it up to the moment of his stroke. His energy and determination were a source of inspiration to men many years his junior. As the Scriptures say of Moses, his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.[…]

Read it all « Ariel Sharon: His Eye Was Not Dim Commentary Magazine.

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2 Responses to His Eye Was Not Dim

  1. I was the senior Mideast official on the NSC) to meet with him, hear him out – WOW, impressive credential

    Like

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