Howard's End: Surprises Up Sharon’s Sleeve
Western political leaders and the media have adopted a cautious wait-and-see stance over the future of Middle East peace negotiations following the election of Ariel Sharon as Israel's new Prime Minister. But how will he "preserve Israel's existence and historical interests." And what are those interests? John Howard writes.
In his first speech outlining plans as Israel's new Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon said his government would, "work to achieve true peace" and that peace would require "painful concessions on both sides."
He declared Israel had "set out on a new path of peace among its people, unity, striving for security and real peace."
Sharon then turned to Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian talks saying, "the government I shall establish will concentrate on strengthening united Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people."
He then recited a Jewish prayer: "If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue stick to my palate."
So what is likely to happen in the immediate future?
The election decided only to replace one tough ex-general for another. Israel's parliament is unchanged, and the Knesset can almost be guaranteed to be as unruly for Sharon as it was Ehud Barak.
Sharon will find it no easier to build a stable governing majority than Barak - unless he can make a pre-emptive and successful strike which would have the immediate effect of uniting all the factions and parties which make-up Israel's parliament.
Sharon's record shows, and his revealing biography "Warrior" explains at length, his personal style of war as he waged it from the 1950's onwards. He is a master of strategy and military surprise.
And he will surprise - that is the nature of the man. His surprise will be designed to outflank his enemies and boost his friends through a bold and dramatic gesture.
What is the most likely bold and dramatic gesture which would outflank his enemies and win him friends in the West? The answer seems clear – Iraq.
Sharon will not have forgotten that Saddam Hussein forced Israeli children into bomb shelters and wear gas masks during the Gulf War. He will have not forgotten the terrifying effect on the population of the screeching air-raid sirens as Iraq launched SCUD missiles into Israel.
In turn, we should not forget that Ariel Sharon was also part of the 1981 Israeli government when it launched that daring air-strike which destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak just days before its atomic pile went critical. He was the strongest voice in the government for that strike.
Saddam Hussein still retains power in Baghdad all but free of sanctions and controls. He has said he is determined to build Iraq's capacity to intimidate his neighbours, he has moved his troops to threatening northern-border positions and he financially supports some Palestinian extremist groups.
Western intelligence agencies have been reporting for some months that Saddam Hussein is trying to rebuild his weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical and biological. He will not allow UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq.
If Sharon takes a strike at Iraq the new US Bush administration would be ecstatic. The Europeans, dependent on oil supplies, would be much relieved to have a disruptive Hussein out of the way. The moderate Arab leaders, who will now be afraid of their extremist street-mobs if they even deal remotely with Sharon, will be massively relieved. And importantly, the Arab extremists will have lost their strongest ally or seen it destroyed.
New US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, will be in the Middle East by the end of this month and he will likely be urging calm on all sides - publicly at least. But it seems likely that he also has scores to settle with Saddam Hussein.
Sharon, and Israel, has only had one defeat in 52 years - Israel's disastrous 1982 invasion of Lebanon which became bogged down into a prolonged war. That is not likely to be repeated by Sharon now that he is Prime Minister and the world will likely be very grateful if he specifically demolishes Iraq's weapons sites and perhaps even Saddam Hussein himself.
Ariel Sharon is also an old student of the Torah (Bible) and he believes the ancient promise that Zionist aspirations will not be fulfilled until Israel is fully restored within its historic boundaries.
Like it or not Israeli's, along with the Bible, have now given him that mandate. That is something global leaders will have to fully understand and come to terms with.
What will need watching now is any breakout of anti-semitism in countries not in the immediate region, like in Russia in the mid-1950's, because that, God forbid, could lead to universal war.