SI Neg. 98-41569.36a. Date: 12/7/1998...Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister of Israel speaking at a press conference at the National Press Club ..Credit: Jim Wallace (Smithsonian Institution)
Photo by Jim Wallace for the Smithsonian Institute (CC BY 2.0)

Ariel Sharon: 1928 – 2014

Family Security Matters

Bravest in battles, whether at war or at peace….

A giant passes on, who looms especially large compared to the pygmy who sits in the White House.  Readings well worth it:

Times of Israel obituary: Israel’s indomitable protector.

How Sharon narrowly escaped near-certain death in the 1948 war.

Elliott Abrams, who worked closely with Sharon for five years, “His Eye Was Not Dim”; Abrams recounts how Sharon encompassed the security dilemmas of Israel in two contexts, geography and the Palestinian Arabs:

He saw himself as a Jew whose job it was to protect the Jewish state. 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.”

It was an extraordinary moment, for we were discussing the Gaza withdrawal and Palestinian Authority’s take-over of Gaza for most of the meal.  We were arguing about what exactly the PA security forces were doing, and not doing, and how to force them and/or help them to do more.  But here was a remarkable glimpse of the layers underneath, at what Sharon really thought he was dealing with.  He wanted peace, he was taking enormous political risks for peace, but it was clear-as I thought about his remark over and over-that to him the best that could be hoped for was an armed peace. Whatever dreams others may have had about a new Middle East, Sharon saw his work as defending Jews from people who would murder them, as they had been murdered throughout history. Now Jews had a state and they could and would defend themselves, and he would create new lines and new separations that would, he hoped, make that perpetual task far easier.

One final tribute, at Tower Israel (t/h Jennifer Rubin), “The Last Lion of Judea”; in it the hatred Sharon engendered is summed up and put in perspective:

Sharon was also, of course, throughout his life widely criticized, often harshly so. Indeed, few recent politicians have been as ferociously assailed by so many. The opprobrium directed his way was sometimes fair, but just as often based on lies, and notable for its sputtering venom, which at times bordered on the unhinged.

The hatred came from both inside and outside Israel. Certainly, the Israeli Left despised Sharon early and often. To them, he was both a political and aesthetic nightmare: Patron of the settlements the Labor party had initiated, traitor to the Labor establishment of which he was once a fixture, private landowner and capitalist, and a partisan of military force, he seemed the personification of the new, post-utopian Israel less focused on the kibbutznik dream of collectivism, rooted more in the survival of the Jewish State in the modern Middle East. Even his enormous girth appeared to indicate a man of vast and vulgar appetites, indifferent to the ideas of austerity and equality that had defined Israel’s early years. It was only at the end of Sharon’s career, when his more moderate image and dovish withdrawal from Gaza forced a reconsideration, that the ire finally subsided.

In the international realm, it never receded. They hated him, openly and freely; and they still hate him. He was, in effect, a totem, an effigy, a symbol of the Israel that the European and American political and media establishments felt entitled to demonize. And indeed, to them, Sharon was little less than the devil: A warmonger, a war criminal, a thug, a mass murderer, and-in one transcendently racist cartoon in Britain’s Independent-an eater of babies. The outrageous, often anti-Semitic, attacks knew few bounds.

But this also constituted some of his appeal to Israeli voters. Indeed, Sharon seemed, at times, to be Israel’s iron wall, absorbing the entire world’s loathing on his country’s behalf; bearing it all without complaint, noting only that the thing he most feared was sinat hinam, the “baseless hatred” that the Sages claimed destroyed the Second Temple. “The whole world is against us,” Israelis often say, and they could not help noticing that, more than anyone else, it was against Sharon. He was hated, in effect, for all of us.

At a time of rising anti-Semitism, Sharon’s travails are instructive, as to the need for eternal vigilance against this age-old evil.

Bottom Line.  Sharon was a great leader, rare anywhere.  America sure could use him now.

John Wohlstetter

Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute
John C. Wohlstetter is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute (beg. 2001) and the Gold Institute for International Strategy (beg. 2021). His primary areas of expertise are national security and foreign policy, and the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He is author of Sleepwalking With The Bomb (2nd ed. 2014), and The Long War Ahead and The Short War Upon Us (2008). He was founder and editor of the issues blog Letter From The Capitol (2005-2015). His articles have been published by The American Spectator, National Review Online, Wall Street Journal, Human Events, Daily Caller, PJ Media, Washington Times and others. He is an amateur concert pianist, residing in Charleston, South Carolina.