Apr 14, 2009

Warrior

By Jim Fletcher

I’ve been thinking about Ariel Sharon lately. I don’t know why.

The former Israeli prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister and fabled general now lies in a coma, existing somewhere between this life and the next. “Arik” suffered a massive stroke three years ago while serving as prime minister. Thus ends the career of an extraordinary figure in modern history.

Now 81, Israel’s legendary fighter exhausted his body and mind during the entire history of the modern Jewish state. Confronting Arab terrorism pre-state (he was born on the kibbutz of Kfar Malil, a “Sabra” — native Israeli — to parents who were Lithuanian Jews, he fought in the War of Independence of 1947-49; the Sinai Campaign of 1956, the Six-Day War of June, 1967, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, led the invasion of Lebanon to root-out PLO killers, then directed operations against terrorism launched in 2000.

For many, Sharon’s magnificent career was stained permanently when he oversaw the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Zionists and other supporters of Israel considered (probably correctly) that pulling 8,000 Jewish citizens from the midst of a million Palestinians was tantamount to handing a psychological victory to the psychopathic Palestinian leadership. Some speculated that Sharon initiated the entire withdrawal to draw attention away from his corruption investigation.

Perhaps I’m na├»ve and idealistic, but I prefer to believe that Sharon fought only for Israel’s existence right up to the end. I find it difficult to believe that the fearless man who survived wounds at Latrun and in the Sinai would endanger his countrymen in order to avoid criminal prosecution. After all, what was a court going to do to a 78-year-old man who sits at the table of Israel’s greatest fighters of all time?

I once talked with a diplomat who knew Sharon. We were discussing the Gaza pullout a few months after it had taken place. The diplomat was aware, of course, of the vicious criticism Sharon had endured for ordering the pullout.
“But I have a different perspective of Arik,” he said slowly. “You see, in 1973, he gave us our life and our nation.”
The quote remains embedded in my mind.

The year that he referred to was a watershed in the Middle East. Israel, still high from the stunning, biblical, miraculous ’67 war, was caught flat-footed by the Egyptians and Syrians on the very eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Tactically, it was a brilliant, brilliant move on the part of the Arabs. Israel’s soldier sons and daughters were mostly at home.

Then Egyptian and Syrian tanks moved across the borders in the south and the north. Suddenly, Israel was physically endangered. Had the Arabs succeeded, they would have linked-up in Tel Aviv and destroyed Israel.

After days of apocalyptic fighting, the Israelis slowly began to turn the tide. Still, it looked as if territorial gains made six years before would be lost. After all, Egypt wanted the Sinai back and Anwar Sadat had famously vowed to achieve that even if it meant one million dead Egyptians. Syria’s godfather of terror, Hafez Assad, was determined to recapture the Golan Heights. Israel furiously met the Syrian challenge. The Sinai Peninsula was the key, however.

Sharon, by then a recently retired brigadier general, was called up and given command of an armored division. The Egyptians had already poured into the Sinai. Sharon — a man of action always — proposed a daring plan: a crossing of the Suez Canal.

Building a pontoon bridge across the canal, Sharon’s forces then emerged on the other side and, a curious thing happened; Egypt’s Third Army “could not see” where the Israeli forces were. The wily general said he was prepared to kill Egypt’s Third Army. Sharon was within range of Cairo before the U.N. scrambled successfully in hammering out a cease-fire. Israel was saved.

Thus began a decades long push for peace negotiations, led by the international community. From that time to this, the Arabs have never budged an inch from their impossible demands; Israel has already turned over the Sinai and allowed the PLO mafia to flood the West Bank with weapons and terrorists.

Some of us who support Israel are critical of any moves toward negotiation with the Palestinians. I’ve heard many pro Israel Christians, almost with panic in their voices, lament the possible establishment of a Palestinian state.

Look, I can’t imagine anyone more opposed to that than I am. However, I live in the Middle of the United States, not the Middle East. Decisions there are more complex.

What I do know is that God raises men up like Sharon, at precisely the moment He wants them to enter the world stage. Sharon fulfilled his role; his military victories and drive to establish Jewish communities in the biblical heartland will forever stand as a monument to Providence working in the world.

Moshe Dayan, Sharon’s equally famous mentor (remember the eye patch?), was both tough in the Jewish warrior tradition…and pragmatic.

In the years after Israel’s stunning victories in Arab-launched wars, Dayan would comment on the possibility of negotiations with the Arabs:
“I’m waiting for the phone to ring.”
In the next breath, he would urge the Israeli cabinet to understand that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel. He also led the drive to settle the heartland with Jews. Dayan’s later plan for the removal of Israelis from Judea and Samaria (“the West Bank”) was cut short by his own death from cancer.

Sharon’s similar plan a generation later was ended with his stroke.

Can we accept, then, that the Lord raises men up and puts them down for specific purposes?

I met Sharon once. In his Tel Aviv office, he cut an imposing figure, although he wasn’t a tall man. His handshake was crushing. We spoke about the political situation, military situation, and the prospects for peace. “Perhaps in 50 years,” he said without a trace of exaggeration.

For what it’s worth, I believe that right up to the end, that was who Sharon was. He did not want to concede an inch to his killer-cousins. He did the best he could.

If you ever think of it, stop and ask the Lord to bless this man now. Let us hope that in the shadowy place where he lies, the Lord who made his people eternal will come to Arik and reveal Himself to His servant. He has already passed into legend. Let us pray fervently that he passes into a restful eternity.

Related Links

Ariel Sharon - Wikipedia
Ariel Sharon - The Jewish Virtual Library
Ariel Sharon Interviews - video.google.com