Ethan Bronner in the New York Times asks the question “what would Ariel Sharon have done?” in response to Hizballah’s raid that captured two soldiers. And his answer seems to be, very little: A few air strikes, and then a prisoner exchange. So why did Ehud Olmert launch what is increasingly becoming a disastrous war for Israel in response to what was, essentially, a tactical escalation of the ongoing border skirmishing?
“Sharon never had to prove he was Sharon,” [a senior Israeli official who has know Sharon for 30 years] said. “To be prime minister of Israel, the Jews must trust you and the Arabs need to fear you. Sharon had those qualities. Olmert still needs to prove that he is Sharon.”
The result, he and others argue, is that Mr. Olmert has responded with a ferocity in Lebanon that Mr. Sharon would not have chosen. At the same time, Mr. Sharon’s neglect of Hezbollah’s arsenal left Mr. Olmert far more vulnerable.
Leaders of Hezbollah and its sponsors said they did not expect Israel’s harsh counteroffensive. However ferociously he had fought Yasir Arafat and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza, Mr. Sharon never reacted that way in Lebanon while prime minister. In 2004, he exchanged 430 prisoners and the bodies of 59 Lebanese for an Israeli citizen taken by Hezbollah and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers held by the militia. Hezbollah calculated that his more moderate successor, Mr. Olmert, would be open to similar negotiations.
For Mr. Olmert, the calculation was different. Since the attack from Lebanon came on the heels of a similar one from Gaza — leaving three Israel soldiers in enemy hands — and his entire policy is based on more withdrawals from occupied territory, he felt he was being tested. He needed to show friend and foe that he could be a Sharon.
Now, imagine those skittish Democrats, who voted for the war even though they knew it was probably a bad idea but didn’t want to uh, look weak, and who have ever since engaged in the most bizarre game of Twister in an effort to show that the war could have gone very differently if they’d been in charge (you know, Kerry saying he’d have brought in more allies — yeah, right, name any ally who’d have followed you into Iraq but not Bush…). Imagine, if you can, a President Hillary Clinton tested by some provocation by those looking to sink the U.S. into more quagmires. Or Hillary simply facing the smorgasbord of security crises bequeathed by the Bush administration, many of them of its own making…
I’m afraid Hillary Clinton has been proving ever since she first started running for the Senate that she, too, is Sharon. Maybe someone could persuade Papa Bush to come out of retirement. At least he knows he’s not Sharon…