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Is Sharon a New Fabius Maximus?

Is Arik Sharon a new version of Fabius Maximus the Roman commander who hesitated to challenge the advancing Hanibal? There are many speculations about Arik Sharon's restraint when Israeli public opinion cried out for a serious retaliation following the massacre of 20 young Israelis, mostly girls, at Tel Aviv's Dulfinarium Club. But Sharon hesitated to act. He enjoyed a new status in the International Community. He changed the color of his stigma. He gained a new credibility. Some even compared him to Yitzhak Shamir who demonstrated a restraint in 1991 when Israel was attacked by the Iraqi Scuds. Many Israelis used to say that the election of Arik as Prime Minister means a war with the Arabs. Today Sharon became the darling of the Israeli left. His Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, is happy for now. The Israeli right feel that Sharon betrayed them.

Dr. Uri Milstein, Israel's distinguished historian, compared Sharon, in his unique analysis, with the forgotten Israeli Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol. Eshkol hesitated to act against the Egyptian socialist dictator, General Abdul Nassar in 1967. But after Moshe Dayan was appointed as a defense Minister, Israel went to war and achieved the 'Six Day War' victory.

Dr. Milstein believed that Israel's victory was a miracle. He pointed out that the victory prevented a serious research of the 1967 situation. Israel did not draw the right conclusion from its victory. This omission, Milstein argued, caused the blindness which ended with the 'Yom Kippur War' in Oct. 1973. Those winners of 1967, like Rabin, became the 'stars' of Israel. But they did not deserve to be winners according to Dr. Milstein. The myopic approach to the army, the lack of professional conclusion became the background to the tragedy of 1973. Furthermore, he remarked, even the 'Yom Kippur War' was not an object for research and the right conclusions. This omission caused a disaster in 1982: The 'Oranim Campaign' which turned out to be the 'Lebanon War (Shalag) in which 700 soldiers were killed. The issue in 1982, Dr. Milstein stressed, was not the lack of national consensus when Begin was the Prime Minister, the issue was the fact that they army reached the Beirut-Damascus highway in two weeks instead of 24 hours.

Milstein, using the analogy, concluded: "My qualm is that Sharon's wish to be backed by a strong national front, by a great national consensus, might waste the energy which Sharon needs in order to prepare the Israeli security-defense complex for a total war, not just against the Palestinian terrorists but against all the Arab countries which might rush to help the Palestinians." Dr. Milstein tends to argue that, in Israel, the leaders do not like to draw conclusions from tragedies or failures. Therefore, ex-Prime Minister Barak did not draw conclusions from the evacuation of southern Lebanon.

In 1967, Israelis felt they were being pushed to the brink of the abyss. They acted, they achieved the 'Eshkol Victory'. They also became, according to Dr. Milstein, victims of many illusions. This victimization contributed to the 1968-1970 'War of Attrition' with Egypt, the building of the 'Barlev Line' and the 'Yom Kippur War'. So Dr. Milstein called on Sharon to liberate himself from these illusions of power.

Israel, today, must learn from its mistakes in order to be strong and survive. Are we facing a new version of the 'Six Day War'? Why does Arik Sharon hesitate?

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