Sharon: a bulldozer without an engine
Israel, Analysis, 11/5/1997
The happiest Israeli official these days is certainly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, indirectly, got rid of a strong opponent who, until early this week could have posed a real threat to Netanyahu's authority within the ruling right-wing Likud Party. When national infrastructure minister Ariel Sharon lost his libel suit against Hebrew daily Haaretz and its reporter Uzi Benziman, he also lost most of his chances to occupy a senior post in the Likud or to run for chairmanship.
At the end of a six-year long libel suit, the court judge found that Sharon had deceived ex-prime minister Menahem Begin and the cabinet and had given them false reports on casualties in the Lebanon War during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The court determined Tuesday that Sharon was not honest with Begin during the Lebanon war.
³The District Court has made a grave mistake, perhaps one of the most serious a court can make. I will not let give up the issue, even if I have to fight for another 20 years," said Sharon. At a press conference he called at his office, Sharon said that he does not intend to resign from the government or retire from political life following the verdict, and that he even sees himself as a candidate for minister of defense in the future. He announced that he would petition for documents and protocols from cabinet meetings from the time of the Lebanon War to be published in order to prove his claims. He added he would appeal to the High Court against the verdict.
Sharon believes that his loss of the libel suit will not constitute an obstacle along his political path. It might be a personal blow, a great disappointment, but no political failure. Sharon's aim of becoming minister of defense is greatly influenced by his aspiration to erase the stain which has stuck to him ever since the official Kahan commission of inquiry recommended removing him from his post as minister of defense following the massacres at Sabra and Shatila in 1982. Sharon was convinced he would win, just as he did in his suit against Time, which had written that in the Kahan commissionıs secret report it was said that Sharon encouraged the Phalangists to carry out the massacres in which hundreds of Palestinians were slaughtered in cold blood between September 14-16, 1982, days after the PLO troops pulled out of Lebanon.
But legal experts believe that Sharon's chances before the Supreme court are slim. If the Supreme Court does not overturn the verdict given by the District Court, then it is almost certain that Sharonıs political career has come to an end. While it is true that Sharon survived the Sabra and Shatila massacres in which he was implicated in terms of ministerial responsibility, it is doubtful whether he will be able to minimize the effect of the verdict which confirms that he misled Begin and did not treat him honestly. The court explicitly noted that ³Menahem Begin knew well that Sharon cheated him.²
Since the formation of the present government in Israel, opposition to Sharon did not only come from the left but also from within the Likud. Party member Benny Begin, son of Menachem Begin, said that Sharon had conducted a ³private war² in Lebanon and misled the government and public opinion. The ups and downs in Sharon's relations with Netanyahu had affected his status within the party and proved to many that he is no longer the "driving force" behind the Likud right wing ideology.
Sharon, who obtained the "bulldozer" title over the years, today seems to have lost his power. He might still be called a bulldozer but, as a matter of fact, without an engine. Or a paper tiger who threatens nobody.
Feeling as weak as he may be, Sharon compared himself after the verdict to ex-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin prior to his assassination. "Over the years I have been the victim of intentional and unceasing incitement, incitement which stops at no means or lying², he said noting that the attack on him was similar to the incitement that preceded Rabinıs murder. Sharon may not be hinting to a possible attempt on his life but surely he is talking of the assassination of his own political career.
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