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Why Gaza? Why Iraq?

Reader comment on item: "Today Gaza, Tomorrow Jerusalem"

Submitted by Gary Frankford (United States), Aug 13, 2005 at 12:41

Dear Daniel:

As always, thanks for your interesting and important insights. I couldn't agree more with your point that the evacuation of Gaza will precipitate a ratcheting up of violence by the Palestinians. It "may" be that even Egypt perceives it has something to gain from aiding them, since that would mean they'd be called upon to "mediate", presumably by the US!

However, the idea that Sharon is invested, one way or the other, in what "effect" the disengagement will have on Palestinian attitudes towards Jews and Israel cannot be accurate. The idea of Sharon going soft on the Palestinians has no precedent anywhere in Sharon's distant or recent past. In essence, Sharon is who he always was. The sum of his life is what counts, not fables in the press about "sudden U-turns", etc. There may be many Jews who believe in he land-for-peace formulation, but Ariel Sharon is as yet not one of them.

In Sunday's JPost, Herb Keinon spelled out what I have always considered the logical background to the Sharon decision, i.e., that he envisions Gaza as an opportunity to engage the Palestinians militarily on their own turf, once Israel has freed itself of the legal taint of "occupation". Like you, Sharon anticipates an increase in Arab terror as a result of the pullout. Unlike you, he welcomes it.
Sharon's military career was that of a man looking for a battle, willing to take on risks others avoided. This time is no different. As in 1967, anti-Israel forces are gathering, not diminishing in the region. Israel needs to determine the order of battle, especially when its chief antagonist, Iran, is preparing the ultimate weapon.

Warrior-statesmen create their own opportunities, since success in battle and its aftermath is all that counts. Clearly Sharon believes Israel must fight now, while it can control the order of battle. To delay may mean risking a (nuclear?) war with Iran down the line, if a succeeding US administration were to reject Bush's aggressive stance in the Middle East.

Keinon's article outlined what I wrote to you a month or so ago. But he added a warning---that after the evacuation the Palestinians will do "everything in their power" to thwart the trap Sharon has prepared. No surprise. They, too, are fighting to win. However, I don't understand what Keinon can be thinking. Is he saying that Israel should avoid all confrontations with the Arabs if there is any hint they might offer resistance? Or, that if they suspect what Israel might be up to, to drop everything? That kind of thinking would have had a strange effect on the outcome of WWII, had Churchill paid even the slightest attention to his critics, who often expressed the hope that the way to Hitler's "heart" was through appeasement and concession. I doubt Ariel Sharon has much faith in the "heart-to-heart" approach where the Palestinians are concerned.

As a result of Operation Defensive Shield, Afghanistan and Iraq, both Israel and the US (as well as services throughout the world) have gathered enormous amounts of still-secret intelligence concerning "Arab realities." Perceptions have changed from what they were 4-5 years ago We can agree that, having seen the documents, the email, the physical evidence of coordinated Islamist plans for future violence as well as long-term and far-reaching political/religious goals vis à vis the West, neither Bush nor Sharon believes the Arabs and Iranians are dreaming of peaceful coexistence!

I would guess that whatever they saw, it portrayed the Islamists---as well as governments and peoples who cheer them on---as enemies, not friends. I think many of us will one day be surprised by the breadth and scope of the anti-US/anti-Israel "community," once this mountain of intelligence is declassified.

No one is happy that Bush and Sharon have not been more forthcoming about why the US is fighting in Iraq and why Israeli settlers are being forced to leave Gaza. Just the other day, in response to a reporter's question about reducing America's troop levels in Iraq, President Bush spoke only about "laying the foundations for future peace." Sharon's comments have been equally vague regarding the disengagment.

Perhaps the silence of both Bush and Sharon on these matters is their explanation.

What would be the point of Bush's explaining that the war in Iraq is being used to lure large numbers of al Qaeda into that country so that we can kill or interrogate them? Bush always maintained that the war would "take the battle to the enemy." And so it has, though at great cost to our soldiers and marines.

The problem was that, after 9/11, we faced a frightening intelligence vacuum-----concerning an enemy capable of inflicting terrible damage, without warning, without declaring war, without an "address" to reply to. In this light, both Afghanistan and Iraq were correct responses to the threat of further attacks from Islamists. What better way to uncover the mysteries than to do one's "investigation" on-site! What we know in 2005 about Islamist intentions represents a sea-change over what we knew on 9/11.

You once advised turning over political power to the Iraqis as soon as possible. While that would have spared many American lives, it would have undercut an important purpose of the invasion--- putting Americans to work uncovering the nature of what we were (and still are) up against, and to do it "over there." It is this core "raison de guerre" that cannot be spoken, for fear of bringing the wrath of every Moslem nation down upon us simultaneously.

Far better to let them think George Bush is a naïve cowboy, a Wilsonian idealist, bringing democracy to those who have no use for it. Better their contempt and sarcasm than their collective resistance to our presence in the region.

As for Gaza, it is impossible that Sharon believes the settlers' leaving will bring peace! He will not disclose Israel's real purpose for the evacuation. Like every wartime leader, Sharon is tasked with speaking out of all sides of his mouth simultaneously, spreading disinformation to friend and foe alike. Surprisingly, One reads little in the press about possible historically relevant motives for Sharon's uprooting these people. One wonders if many journalists today know how big a role official disinformation played in winning WWII? And how, at the time, Churchill was reviled for the same "wrongheadedness" as Sharon (and Bush) today?

Your often-advocated theory that "something happens to Israeli prime ministers" is valid to a point. When one is talking about Ariel Sharon, however, it does no good to simply discard his historical profile. The mistake is in implying that "though we know what's really happening, Sharon evidently does not...." What? Does Netanyahu "know" what is really happening? Or, the settler movement's leaders? Or the Kach extremists? Do they know what Ariel Sharon does not? Is Sharon a Rabin, or an Eshkol? Or even a Begin? Does anyone alive today know how to fight the Arabs better than Ariel Sharon? To whom can we point who was more willing to defeat the Arabs in battle, who advised repeatedly against compromise until Israel's wars were won unconditionally? Only Sharon.

Perhaps the mistake is in our looking at politics and strategic maneuvering, when we should be looking at military tactics, i.e., what a military commander does in preparation for the final battle, which is what Sharon has been itching for since the failures in Lebanon.

I believe that perhaps the "solution" to Israel's Arab problem can be achieved only through war. The Arabs, especially the Palestinians, have spent three decades twisting the Arab mind into antisemitic spasms. As you say, no one in his right mind should expect them to snap out of it any time soon. But, why Ddo you believe that Ariel Sharon, who came to Washington on more than one occasion to show Bush the "fruits" gleaned during raids into Jenin, Tulkarm and Ramalla, doesn't comprehend this?

When I was in Israel last November I asked Dov Weinglas a pointed question:

"What will Israel do if, after leaving Gaza, the Palestinians continue to murder Jews? What if the Palestinians take advantage of the disengagement, not to build the beginnings of a state for themselves, but to improve their military capabilities? Will Israel's response be as it has been, a series of ‘incursions', a series of closures, increased checkpoints, etc?"

"No, it won't be the same," he said. "Then we won't be occupiers any longer, and our range of responses will expand accordingly." Quote-unquote, as recorded in my simultaneous notes of that interview.

Whether Israelis themselves, as well as the US and other Western nations, will attempt to thwart this strategy one cannot know in advance. But clearly, with Iran now going forward with its nuclear cat-and-mouse game, with the Shi'a threatening to turn Iraq into an Islamic dictatorship, with the Blair government's hand now forced prematurely after July 7----the velocity of events may speed up in the months to come beyond what had been foreseen by Bush and Sharon.

Assuming I am right in my analysis, the realities throughout the region should begin shifting profoundly in the coming year. Either the Palestinians will come to their senses (unlikely), or there may be all-out war with Israel. Either the Shi'a in Iraq come to their senses and liberalize their ideas for Iraqi society, or the Coalition could conceivably relocate its forces to the Kurdish north, thereby permitting Shiites and Sunnis to fight it out in Baghdad. Whatever happens, I will not be surprised. I expect the worst, because I believe one does not reverse 1500 years of Islamic history without first destroying what is in place.

In the matter of Ariel Sharon, his life is a puzzle, and his premiership only a piece of the whole. History will show his having been either a fool or a hero re: the disengagement. But all we have to go on now are his accomplishments to date, and his character, the nature of the man. From these factual elements our analyses should unfold.

All regards,

Gary Frankford

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