Meir Javedanfar: On Ariel Sharon’s legacy and Israel’s national strategy

Today I had the privilege of being interviewed by Al Jazeera America alongside great Middle East experts and astute observers such as Alon Pinkas, Steven A. Cook, Hussein Ibish, Matt Duss, Aaron David Miller and others .

The question which was asked was:

What is Ariel Sharon’s legacy in terms of how Israel deals with questions of territory, war and security, and peace and diplomacy?

 My reply:

“Sharon’s legacy is the idea that Israel has to be militarily strong and it has to show its enemies that it will defend itself with all its might, if and when it has to do so.

At the same time, when it comes to some challenges, especially when it comes to the Palestinian issue, having a strong army will not be enough. When it comes to occupying someone else’s land to provide security for your citizens, less is more. In fact, occupation of someone else’s land makes you more insecure, and the argument that settlements provide security for Israel is nonsense, because houses full of Israeli women and children in occupied territories are never meant to be used as shields. So how can they provide security?

I hope Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu follows his example and withdraws from the occupied territories as part of a peace deal with the PLO. It’s time for Israel’s politicians to be brave, and not just its 18-year-old soldiers.”

You can read the rest of the interviews here. I highly recommend this collection of interviews.

Ariel Sharon: Praising his contributions, recognizing his grave mistakes

Ariel Sharon died yesterday and the eulogies are pouring in.

There are many in Israel who are praising him for his contribution to the state. Ehud Olmert put it best: “He stood directly in the line of fire throughout his life”.

And its true. Ariel Sharon fought for this country in wars which if Israel had lost, it would have been annihilated. The Six days war is a prime example. Israel was not even occupying the West Bank back then, yet Nasser and ilk his saw no difference. They wanted it all destroyed. They saw every inch of Israel as “occupied territory”.

The same goes for the Yom Kippur war. The Egyptians and their allies were not only interested in recapturing the occupied Sinai, they wanted to “liberate” all of Israel. Much like Hamas wants to do today. Sharon contributed to saving Israel from annihilation in that war.

And of course he was the man behind the Gaza withdrawal in 2005.

And for these he deserves commendations and respect. He truly served his country by risking his life and political career.

But lets not be blind to his mistakes. And there were grave ones.

The Lebanon war of 1982 is a distinct example. Yes, Israel did need to stop the firing into its territory by the PLO. But instead of clearing the area close to Israel’s border, Sharon embarked on regime change by going all the way to Beirut to install a Christian regime. We all know what happened after that. After Gemayel was killed, the Phalangist embarked on killing thousands of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila. Meanwhile Israel became stuck in the mud of Lebanon for 18 long years. The long term damage is still there. One of the reasons why Hezbollah was initially created was to fight our occupation of their country. In fact its incredible that he returned to politics after his performance in Lebanon. Perhaps we are lucky that he did. Otherwise its possible that we would still be stuck in Gaza.

The radio announcements from Egypt during the Six days war show what kind of threats Sharon faced as an army commander. When your people like are told that they will be “slaughtered, burned and destroyed” (see video below) then you will be forgiven for thinking that such a war is one of no option. It’s a shame that Sharon gave us a very bad war which we did have an option of, and that was the prolonged invasion of Lebanon.