Wednesday, January 04, 2006
We have sharp readers -- please offer your speculations in the comments.
UPDATE: Stratfor's analysis is succinct:
Sharon has occupied a unique position in Israeli life. Historically, he has been the ruthless enforcer of government policies -- sometimes policies that the Israel government either couldn't or wouldn't endorse publicly. For example, in 1973, when the Israelis promised the United States they wouldn't encircle the Egyptian army, it was Sharon who -- ostensibly without orders -- carried out the operation. Sharon was relentless. Therefore, his negotiations with the Palestinians were seen as qualitatively different from the negotiations of others. He would be intolerant of Palestinian violations and indifferent to opinion -- foreign, Palestinian or Israeli.
The Likud party's view has come to be that Sharon no longer is the man he once was. His age, his desire for the personal glory of forging peace, his absorption into the international processes -- all had weakened his resolve and credibility. He therefore left Likud and formed a new party, Kadima, with Shimon Peres. Sharon was trying to forge a grand coalition beyond ordinary Israeli politics because his vision broke with Likud's. In a sense, he was trying to forge a grand coalition of the center, isolate the left and right, and to use his personality as guarantor of all agreements.
He ran out of time.
It is difficult to imagine Kadima functioning without Sharon. The center-left desire for peace depends on the guarantees of a relentless man. Israel doesn't have any more Sharons -- men who are both relentless and believe a stable settlement with the Palestinians is possible. It has relentless people who don't believe a settlement can happen, and it has people who believe in peace but are not relentless. And Kadima, in the end, was to be the peace party of relentless men.
The pessimism deepens:
This affects the Palestinian side as well. Sharon was hated by the Palestinians yet, paradoxically, he had far more credibility with them than does Peres. Sharon could deliver. Peres couldn't. This hurts Mahmoud Abbas badly. He heads the negotiation team on the Palestinian side, and he has lost his only credible negotiating partner. With Hamas and more radical factions of Fatah making headway in the Palestinian community, it is hard to see how Abbas can keep his balance without Sharon.
Politics, in the deepest sense, rarely depends on personality -- and when it does, that only signifies the fragility of the politics. Sharon's incapacitation and possible death is a case study of that. When a single man means so much to a negotiating process, that process is not robust enough anyway. Perhaps Olmert or someone else will emerge to manage that process, but we believe that unlikely.
I think there is going to be a war, and it will be very, very tough on the Palestinian Arabs.
IMHO, it will lead to instability, as the influence of well meaning appeasers grows.
Also, it offers an intriguing fantasy-based question: "What would be the long term strategic impact for Isreal if Ariel Sharon had access to Tony Stark's armor?"
Israel like most countries has depended on strong leaders to lead them through their peril. The Old Testament of the Bible is primed with examples of that, where one individual as made the difference. The question of course is who is that strong leader that will take Sharons place?
Probably extremely negative for stability. Sharon had enough pull to pursue the only course that insures Israel's freedom of action and maximum security: pullback from most Palestinian populations and give them a defacto state (which just increases the Palestinian Civil War).
Sharon also had an effect on the Fatah folks; they knew he would use force when pressed.
Fallout is likely more influence for Hamas and such and increased terrorism; in the hope of provoking war (which they might well get). We will probably see domestic confusion in Israel unable to formulate a clear response to Palestinian provocation and perhaps even Syria and/or Egypt launching a lightning war in the hope of crushing Israel finally and not so co-incidentally crushing domestic dissent.
Only God knows what Sharon would accomplish if he recovers or if he dies.
But I know this for a fact, take it to the bank.
The Islamic world (especially the Arab world) will see this as a divine action taken by Allah to destroy the Jews.
It is a great event and if he dies an even greater event in the Islamic world.
I agree with you and TH Papa Ray. What concerns me most is where will the fallout stop? The gains we have made in the last three years could be extremely impacted by this. Negatively in every sense.
On the immediate front I bet we see less talk of pullbacks ourselves. Our standing military in The Stan and Iraq could quite possibly be a calming influence.
But then I've hoped before and been burned!
Where does the impact lie with Iran? Care to hazard a guess? Like we don't already know the answer to that one.
So much for hoping that a fourth deployment wouldn't be necessary! :-(
Well I'll say one thing: if we weren't over there right now, who is the one Arab leader who isn't in power right now and had a history of invading his neighbors at the drop of a hat? Who was threatening Israel with SCUD missiles just a short while ago?
Hmmmm.... I'd say it's a damn good thing we did what we did. Prescient, almost.
Another thought: if they aren't asleep at the wheel, this may actually force the UN into "pre-emptive" action, if only to avoid a worse global conflagration.
Wouldn't *that* be a hoot? I'd love to be a fly on the wall.
That first point, Cass, is both perceptive and under-explored. The anti-war crowd has gotten away with assuming that the containment of Saddam was both perfect of and permanent duration, yet without costs. Of all the Arab leaders, Saddam would have been the first one to test Israel's new leader in the middle of a crisis.
I think that the current situation will be spun as a powder keg ready to blow, but in reality JHD has the right of it: with our troops all over the ME, Iran or Syria are far less likely to try to take advantage of Israel's misfortune.
Frankly, the biggest danger is that the hardliners in Israel will be tempted to some idiotic overreaction thinking we will back them, but if Condi has any sense she'll get those sexy little black boots over to Tel Aviv pronto and stomp that notion firmly out of anyone's mind.
I agree, Cass. The risk is from the Israelis themselves. If they drift too right, they may overreach and destabilize too much, either in Palestine or vs. Iran. If they drift too left, they may imply weakness in a part of the world where that only encourages war.
1) If Sharon dies or is politically incapacitated, Kadima fails to get off the ground. Olmert and Bibi are the 2 most likely successors to Sharon in the next election.
Both will continue Sharon's policies - erection of the Wall; withdrawal from Gaza. Both will preempt Iranian nuclear development, as Sharon would. All will be tempted to wait until after November 2006 as the US will push that very hard.
At the margin, Bibi will be tougher than Sharon on Abbas.
One little noticed feature of the last few days is that Hamas and Fatah hasve started to cause trouble for Egypt, breaking through the Rafah border crossing. If that type of activity continues, which Mubarak cannot like, evenutally they will overreact and kill alot of Palestinians, far more gruffly than the Israelis would, by the way. This would be very helpful to Israeli status.
Sharon is a "big" figure on the world stage, and benefitted from his perception as ruthless and impervious to opinion. No other Israeli leader - or even world leader - can match this perception of strength.
On the other hand, Israel is loaded with talent, and responds brilliantly to adversity. Their ability to act pragmatically, intelligently and within their interests, and within those of the US, should not be underestimated.
Net net, I think Bibi will be their next leader because he will be perceived by Israelis as tough -- and acceptable to the US. I do not beleive it will fundamentally alter the local equation.
Without knowing much detail, it makes sense that Bibi is the frontrunner post-Sharon. My concern is that Bibi will owe his election to the expansionists (he is one himself, I suppose), and that will make it impossible for him to make concessions that Sharon would have been able to make. If he can't make concessions, or is perceived as not being able to, then the Palestinians won't deal with him. Since they miscalculate worse in their geopolitics than any people on earth, that miscalculation will lead to a lot of harshness, which will not work out well for anybody.
Now, your theory that the bottomless Palestinian capacity for bad political calculation will lead them to mess with Egypt is an interesting one. It does, however, push us into "hoping" that Egypt cracks down on them hard, which is not a position that I relish.
I don't know.
I haven't been following Israeli politics closely. People seem to think Olmert is unpopular and the corruption thing may leave him vulnerable. Olmert was the one who backed Kadima, after Sharon. Maybe he will be stronger than advertised. It will be interesting.
How ruthless is he? Does he have enough friends to bolster him? The corruption thing would seem to indicate at least someone owes him :)
The Palis don't seem to be able to do anything competently for long.
Martin Peretz was priceless on this in this morning's Jewish World Review:
The fact is that, as no-nonsense Golda said many years ago, the Arabs of Palestine don't behave like a nation. No, this doesn't mean they shouldn't have a state. All kinds of rumps have states, and just about every one of these states is represented at the United Nations — where many of them cover for each other over the mortal crimes they inflict on their own populations, like Libya for Sudan, or, for that matter, China for virtually every violator of human rights on the planet. Actually, a fictive Palestine has already been counted as a virtual member state for decades, and this has given first Arafat and now his successors the standing to hijack the proceedings of the General Assembly so that much of its business has been devoted to how awfully the Jews treat the Arabs. And, in any case, haven't the Palestinians already declared their independence at least twice?
Now, it's not as if the Palestinians agree as to who represents them, not by a long shot. A significant percentage believes there is nothing to talk about anyway, except possibly the practical details of Israel's dissolution. Of course, the Israeli government negotiates with the Palestinian Authority, mostly under the auspices of Washington, although for some reason Russia, the European Union, and even the United Nations are occasionally made to feel that they are also playing hostess. But the P.A. has very little authority, and it seems sometimes to revel in its helplessness, likely as an explanation of why it can't enforce the few arrangements to which it has agreed. It's not surprising that, in such a circumstance, the peace-process interlopers are always looking for someone else to jump start the process.
Follow ups -
1) yes I think Kadima (a nice game at the beach) is a dead letter without Sharon's leadership. It is not a party today. That doesn't mean there won't be some important political realignment for centrists - perhaps if Sharon is dead, they'll call it the Arik Party. But not for the moment. There is no party today. If not Sharon, who will form it in the next election? not Bibi. That only leaves Peres, and he is perceived as too weak, too Oslo.
2) The old expression about the Palestinians (and the Arabs generally viz. Israel) is that they have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. From Balfour, to'48, to '67 to '73 and '91 and then '99. They cannot help themselves. The Palestinians, in particular, are hopeless.
People of course forget -- they are not a nation. They were part of Egypt, part of Jordan, part of the Turkish empire. Which brings me back to Egypt. I promise you that Mubarak is every bit as concerned and annoyed having the islamist fanatics next to him as Sharon, maybe moreso. It is tougher for Mubarak to send helicopters up over Gaza and roast some of the bad guys. But I assure you he would like to.
Whereas Egypt always played a double game of carping about Israel while secretly happily watching Israel control and pound these lunatics, now he doesn't have that beard. And the Hamas types will not be able to help themselves...they will stir up trouble with Egypt, just like they would for the Hashemite king in Jordan. Sharon's genius was that he realized this. Watch what a mess this will be.
Don't feel badly. It's not about a rooting interest. It's just obvious facts coming to light. The good news here might be that Egypt will bolster Abbas with troops and arms to quell the lunatics, something Israel could never do. If the PA in effect becomes an Egyptian protectorate, that's not all bad.
It is tougher for Mubarak to send helicopters up over Gaza and roast some of the bad guys. But I assure you he would like to.
Whereas Egypt always played a double game of carping about Israel while secretly happily watching Israel control and pound these lunatics, now he doesn't have that beard.
You know... I would *really* appreciate a warning next time you do that.
Because I'd like to put my drink down before spraying it all over my keyboard.