Commentary Magazine

The Legacy of Ariel Sharon

To the Editor:

We should always respect and honor the memory of Ariel Sharon, and Elliott Abrams’s memories are poignant and pertinent [“Ariel Sharon: His Eye Was Not Dim,” February]. We recently passed the date of 7 Adar, the day of the birth and death of Moses, about whom the Torah uses the phraseology, “His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated,” which Mr. Abrams also attributes to Sharon. But the Torah also says of Moses, “Since then there has not risen in Israel a prophet like Moses, who Hashem knew face to face.”

With no disrespect to the man or his memory, perhaps it is an overstatement to say his judgment was sound until the stroke that brought him down. As one who never met the imposing hero, I see in his life and downfall the elements of classical tragedy.

His military history made him a hero of every Israeli war, starting with the 1948 War of Independence. He was of course the hero who was no doubt responsible for saving Israel as a tank commander during the Sinai Campaign of 1967; and then again in 1973, called out of retirement, he performed similarly. Some even referred to him as “The King of Israel.” His service to his country was inestimable as he rose to the post of prime minister. One never doubts his loyalty in defending Israel, even if his career was surrounded by controversy. But the definition of tragedy is “the story of the downfall of a hero or heroes caught in an inescapable fate.” I don’t doubt that up until his decision to evacuate Gaza, his eye was not dim. But the tragic hero causes his own downfall, usually through a fatal flaw such as hubris, overwhelming pride. Sharon’s tragic mistake was to force the Jews who had built homes, businesses, and synagogues in Gaza to abandon them. He did not see that defending the Israelis of Gaza was in fact defending Israel.

From what I read in the news at that time, I could not but see the conflicted hero finally losing the struggle against the larger forces of his fate. To me, as much as I admire the man and his accomplishments, his suffering and death inspired pity and fear.

Sidney A. Stiebel
Long Beach, New York

To the Editor:

Perhaps Ariel Sharon’s eyes were not dimmed, but his mind, corroded by his self-interest and arrogance, was. That Sharon could have thought that the Arab desire to destroy Israel, root and branch, was not operative is a sample of the failure of (leftist) ideology.

That these supposed military experts could think that surrendering the strategic Gaza Strip to the enemy—creating also another precedent for Israeli surrender of territory—demonstrates that the race goes not to the swift and that clouded vision and selfish interest can trump reality.

Unfortunately for Israel and the Jewish people, there are too many who think that an Arab smile heralds peace and that there is a shortcut to peace with the Arabs without destroying their capacity to severely harm Israel. Israel will exist as long as it can deter Arab attempts to destroy it. When this is forgotten, kiss Israel goodbye.

David Basch
Fairfield, Connecticut

To the Editor:

I disagreed with George W. Bush on most things, but on Israel I supported him fervently. I am neither Jew nor evangelical Christian. My support for Israel is based on the belief that humanism is Judaism’s gift to civilization, and that if the Middle East hopes to emerge from the violence, corruption, and fecklessness endemic to it, then the seed of humanism must be planted. So it must follow that the seed is Israel. 

Apart from Ariel Sharon’s strong identity as a Jew was his belief that Israel represents a force for good. It is why one takes away the word “pragmatic” from Elliott Abrams’s essay—neither religious nor doctrinaire but what works for the future of Israel, which, by its nature, works for the betterment of the region and the world.

Jack Rice
Long Beach, California

Elliott Abrams writes:

David Basch and Sidney Stiebel argue that Sharon erred badly in getting Israel out of Gaza. They are entitled to that view, though I do not believe (as Mr. Basch argues) that it can fairly be attributed to arrogance, selfish interest, or leftist ideology. Sharon thought that the effort to protect 7,500 Jews living among 1.5 million Arabs was a futile and unproductive strain on the IDF, especially because no conceivable peace agreement (tomorrow or 50 years from tomorrow) would leave Gaza as part of Israel. Mr. Stiebel’s claim that Sharon “did not see that defending the Israelis of Gaza was in fact defending Israel” is correct; Sharon thought it weakened Israel.

How does that decision look today? Though I suppose they must exist, I know no Israeli who wishes Israel were back in Gaza now and few who would agree with Mr. Basch that it is “strategic.” Improved Israeli missile defenses and increased Egyptian pressure on Hamas are making an occupation of Gaza less and less “strategic” for Israel as time passes.

Sharon certainly did not believe, as Mr. Basch suggests, in Arab smiles; he was a general, a tank commander, who was tough and pragmatic. In the case of Gaza, he made the decision to get out without seeking any Palestinian or Arab promises exactly because he thought them worthless.

Jack Rice is far closer to understanding Sharon, I think, because Sharon saw himself as a Jew with a task of defending the Jewish people in their homeland. As Mr. Rice suggests, to Sharon the means must always be judged pragmatically, but the ends were historic, and indeed sacred: the survival and the flourishing of the Jewish state.

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