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What Would Arik Do?

Fortune favors the bold

Jan 27, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 19 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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But figuring out exactly when Sharon might have decided that he had no alternative to an attack is impossible. There are too many variables: What would his relationship have been like with Obama, if we are past January 2009; where would things stand on the Palestinian front; what was his own domestic political situation; what was his assessment of Israel’s military capabilities and Iran’s own nuclear timetable? The dangers and advantages he saw in 2005 are very different from those Israelis have been confronting or enjoying in the last year or two.

His own political situation was very weak in 2004 and 2005, when he kept losing cabinet and Knesset votes over Gaza, and ultimately lost control of his own Likud party. But that did not stop him. In the end he thought more like a general than like a politician—clever, canny, and indeed ruthless politician though he was. If Israel needed better defense lines, draw them—by creating settlements that make a return to the 1949 Armistice lines (usually called “the 1967 borders”) impossible, or by withdrawing settlements that are impossible to defend at reasonable cost. 

If there was a Sharon approach, it was to favor action over inaction and boldness over excessive calculation, and not to expect that things would get better if you did nothing. For then, you were hostage to the actions of others who might be bolder, stupider, or more dangerous but were in any event quicker. What he eventually decided to do sometimes appalled the left and sometimes, in his last years in power, the right, but he did not act out of ideological commitments. He looked at the maps and the terrain, figured out Israel’s best interests, and moved. That may be the best summary of the Sharon way: Look around, think, but then don’t stop, make your move.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the new book Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

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